Campus News Georgia Impact

UGA and ACC partner to keep community safe

(L-R) UGA officers Detective Jason Campbell and SPO Mason Bridges lead in a team followed by firefighters and paramedics during an active threat exercise at Athens Church. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

They are leveraging resources, personnel and technology

More than 100 emergency responders, staff, and volunteers from across the University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County arrived on the campus of Athens Church with one objective: work across departments to respond to a simulated crisis.

“Our goal was to practice inter-agency cooperation and coordination,” said John Newton, assistant director of UGA’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and the simulation’s organizer. “We are lucky that we have a really good relationship between the agencies, and exercises like this help us practice responding to a large-scale emergency, working together, and coming up with solutions.”

(L-R) UGA volunteer Chuck Thornton talks with UGA Office of Emergency Preparedness Assistant Director John Newton and Lt. Ryan McGee of the ACCPD during an active threat exercise at Athens Church. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

On a chilly January morning, officials from UGA and their counterparts in Athens-Clarke County assembled police officers, firefighters, 911 operators, EMTs and other officials for an exercise that simulated an active shooter at a concert attended by UGA students and members of the Athens community. Volunteers from across the community also participated in the exercise, acting as victims, 911 callers, news media and others.

First responders were expected to establish incident command, respond to simulated injuries and casualties and secure the scene. After the initial simulation, the exercise moved over to St. Mary’s Health Care System and Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital to practice the type of patient surge that would be caused by a major crisis.

“We know that a large-scale event will not just affect one entity. It is vital that we include everybody across the spectrum—911, the fire department, EMS, the hospitals and more,” said UGA Police Chief Dan Silk.

Leaders from UGA and ACC said that crisis simulations are an important part of emergency preparedness and teach first responders critical skills, such as setting up an incident command system, using a similar nomenclature, and responding to unexpected challenges like technology failures.

“It’s so important to participate in a multi-jurisdictional exercise like this,” said Major Eric Swift of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. “The more we can do these exercises and the more we can work with our partners, the better and more efficient we will be.”

UGA Office of Emergency Preparedness business manager Savannah Hembree, right, briefs first responders before the start of an active threat exercise at Athens Church. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The recent crisis simulation is part of a longstanding partnership between UGA and Athens-Clarke County to promote safety in the community.

“We have worked jointly for years and years. By sharing systems—our dispatch, records management and radio systems are interoperable—we have instant information sharing. That way we can have a seamless response,” Silk said.

The partnership between the two police forces starts at the beginning of officers’ careers, when officers from UGA and ACC train together at the same police academy and attend the New Officer Basic Course hosted by ACC.

The police forces’ communications are integrated as well. Because of the joint radio systems, patrol officers can speak with each other along with firefighters. With the records management arrangement, staff members who work in records are working together on a daily or weekly basis.

As UGA and ACC police collaborate, UGA also has supported safety enhancements on campus and in downtown Athens. The university is in the third year of a three-year, $8.5 million investment in safety, which includes installing additional lighting and security cameras, hiring additional police personnel, introducing a new smartphone safety app and establishing a nightly rideshare program.