coached students on the roles they would play as command officers in a HAZMAT event. The students went on field trips to see different fire stations and the Chelsea Emergency Management Command Post, which would be set up in the event of a HAZMAT event. They learned about public safety and the different equipment and what it is used for. They also learned how to operate two-way radios and take meteorological readings with handheld weather instruments provided by the EPA. Alpert recalled that, at first, some of the students had no idea what a two-way radio was. "We stood over their shoulders and walked them through it. They were going to be the ones to tell the emergency response units where to go and not to go, where the plume is, where people are going to be in jeopardy, and where it is safe to go -- using all the information they gathered and put into the computer."
The 45-minute simulated event involved units of the Chelsea Fire and Police Depts., the School Dept., the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the regional ambulance service.
Emergency Management set up a mobile command post outside the school complex, and EPA brought in air monitoring instruments and interfaced them with the CAMEO program, which was operating on a laptop. Students set up an operations center in one of the school offices and plotted the plume. They directed the "evacuation" by sending orders to the mobile command post via runners. Personnel in the command post took the information and used simulated broadcasts to send the orders to the appropriate public safety agency.
The event was low key -- no sirens or rushing traffic. Communications were confined to the immediate site, and instead of children actually evacuating the building, they were represented by students wearing signs identifying their condition. "With our help," said Alpert, "they called the shots as they thought things should be done."
Success Generates Support
According to everyone involved, the year-long project was a resounding success. LEPC is currently working with CHS on plans for a larger table-top simulation, to be followed up at some point by an actual, functional exercise. In recognition of the program's value to education and the community, Bell Atlantic -- under its Metropolitan School-to-Career GIS Initiative -- gave a grant to the city of Chelsea and seven other communities to develop and expand this curriculum at their high schools. Funding has already enabled CHS to conduct summer GIS training programs for teachers and administrators, with a $500 professional-development stipend for attendees. Through its own grant program, EPA is making CAMEO available to high schools in communities that have received the Bell Atlantic grant.
Experience Is A Plus
Wallace says EPA is also working with CHS to market the students' skills. "We are going to invite companies to the school and show them this project, [and] let them know that if they need people who can fill out environmental reports or do data entry -- part time or in the summer -- they don't need to look outside the community. The talent is here."
The GIS program at Chelsea High began with 16 students; this year the class is full and there is a waiting list. Since the semester ended, several students have expressed interest in public safety careers. Alpert tells them that the training and experience they have may one day benefit them as municipal employees.
Bill McGarigle is a writer specializing in communication and information technology.
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