By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

The sounds of sirens and cries for help echoed across SUNY Broome’s campus on the afternoon of May 5, 2023. Thankfully, this chaos was not only controlled, it was orchestrated down to the minute by a team of over 30 members of the campus’ faculty and staff. After a brief hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, SUNY Broome’s 9th Annual Mock Environmental Disaster returned to engage over 100 students from 18 academic departments in an immersive, hands-on, large-scale disaster scenario. 

As per tradition, the Mock Disaster began with a campus-wide educational opportunity. This year, students were provided with a comprehensive overview of what to do in an overdose emergency from start to finish. A team of panelists from the community detailed each portion of the process from the perspectives of dispatch, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and rehabilitation. The panel was followed by a discussion on the importance of self-care and burnout prevention. Presenters included:

  • Amanda Bailey – Broome County Dispatch 
  • Amber Hontz – LifeNet
  • Undersheriff Sammy Davis – Broome County Sheriff’s Office
  • Seth Garnar – ACBC
  • Rebecca Singer – SUNY Broome Nursing Department
  • Dr. Francis Battisti – Professor Emeritus 

Public Safety Investigator, Marie Finelli, opened the exercise with a moment of silence in honor of first responders.
Photo Credit: Silvia Briga

Public Safety Investigator, Marie Finelli, opened the exercise with a moment of silence in honor of the first responders, both current and past, who put their lives on the line in service of their communities. This pause particularly recognized the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice while working in the service of others. 

This year’s Mock Environmental Disaster scenario included propane explosion, exposure to an unidentified white chemical powder, and a drug overdose. A group of 34 people (SUNY Broome student and staff volunteers) were found by first responders to be injured or deceased. At the conclusion of the disaster announcement, students from 18 academic departments sprung into action, securing the scene, triaging patients, decontaminating those covered with the unknown white substance, transporting the injured to the hospital for advanced care, and identifying the deceased based on their dental records. 

For Health Science Academic Advisor, Sarah Belancsik, volunteering as an injured victim was one of the highlights of her academic year. “It was so amazing to watch our students in action! I’ve worked so closely with so many of these students and watched them complete their prerequisite courses and work so hard to be admitted into a competitive health science program. Watching them take care of me was so incredible! It highlighted just how much they are meant to be healthcare providers. I want to volunteer for this every year,” said Belancsik. 

The Mock Environmental Disaster takes a team of over 30 SUNY Broome faculty and staff members a full academic year to coordinate. But the labor is worth the reward. 

Dental Hygiene students examined the victims to identify each person based on their dental records. Photo Credit: Silvia Briga

“The overarching goal of the Mock Environmental Disaster is to provide our students with exposure to a controlled crisis that mirrors experiences that they will have out in the field. We want our students to be the most prepared professionals that they can be, and this is just another way to build up their professionalism before they enter the workforce,” said Mock Environmental Disaster Co-Chair, Erin O’hara-Leslie. 

A special thank you goes out to each member of the 2022/2023 Mock Disaster Committee and to our community partners: Chenango Fire Department, Broome Ambulance, LifeNet, NYS Office of Emergency Management, and the Broome County Hazmat Team. Members of the Mock Disaster Committee include: 

  • Erin O’Hara-Leslie, Co-Chair
  • Melissa Martin, Co-Chair
  • Denise Abrams
  • Linda Bennett
  • Dani Berchtold
  • Nick Brey
  • Silvia Briga
  • Val Carnegie
  • Carol Church
  • Rob Congdon
  • Colleen Donahue
  • Judi Dzuba
  • Matt Ebbers
  • Marie Finelli
  • Tina Hasemann
  • Kristin Hofer
  • Holly Jones
  • Leora Kenney
  • Julianne Klepfer
  • Leigh Martindale
  • Michele McKay
  • Kim McLain
  • Skip McLain
  • Courtney O’Hagen
  • Karoline Pignatelli
  • Rebecca Scales
  • Tina Seedborg
  • David Tinklepaugh
  • Anne Uncapher
  • Hans Van Houten
  • Josh VanSteenburg
  • Denise Wells
  • Kristen Yetter
  • Ann Marie Zumawtzak
Mock Disaster Drill 2023

View photos from the 9th Annual Mock Environmental Disaster!