Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2015

AMHERST — If an emergency shelter needs to be activated for Hampshire County residents during a major storm, those in charge of overseeing the site need to be prepared to safely and orderly accommodate people and their pets.

This ability to ensure families have a safe place to stay is a primary objective of a six-hour emergency exercise hosted by the University of Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps and its Emergency Management Office, scheduled for April 2 from 2 to 8 p.m. in the lower concourse of the Campus Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Ann Becker, a public health nurse for the UMass Medical Reserve Corps who is coordinating the drill, said the exercise will focus on making sure people displaced are registered in a timely and complete manner. This builds on an exercise held last April in which volunteers simulated activation of an overnight shelter at the Mullins Center.

“We’re just focusing on the registration process and how to get as many people trained in that process as possible,” Becker said.

More than 275 volunteers and emergency response partners are expected to participate in the exercise, which will test both the campus and community readiness for responding to a disaster and a regional sheltering plan put in place by the Hampshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee.

Most of the initial hour will be about the check-in procedure and how names and information is collected for those seeking shelter. Becker said an evaluation afterward will show what works and what doesn’t. One critical element is ensuring everyone who checks in also checks out.

During the course of the day and evening, volunteers will be trained by emergency planning experts in several other areas, Becker said.

The Boston Public Health Commission’s DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness will lead workshops on how to offer psychological first aid, such as delivering compassion in the aftermath of a disaster and getting people safe and calm, Becker said. The DelValle Institute will also teach participants how to assess the functional needs of those coming to a shelter, including challenges such as language and physical barriers, Becker said.

Amherst Fire chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the drill will be beneficial in case a real emergency happens.

“We never turn down a chance to participate in something like this,” Nelson said. “It’s only going to make the system better.”

UMass students will present personal preparedness and “SMART tag” triage trainings for use during disasters with many injuries. The SMART tag system calls for paramedics and EMTs to identify patients with different colored tags depending on the severity of their injuries. Becker said this is shift for those accustomed to giving individual care to a patient.

The Hampshire Disaster Animal Response Team will provide training on dealing with pets in shelters.

Outside the Campus Center, a mobile health clinic and an ambulance with a simulated patient will be set up.

The exercise is funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council, which provided around $19,000, and in-kind donations from University Health Services, Becker said. In addition, the Western Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps will provide kits for emergency volunteers that include flashlights, emergency blankets, whistles and other items needed during incidents.

Other participants include regional partners and campus departments.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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