Pomona College carried out a drill in Seaver Hall North on April 9, simulating an incident involving hazardous chemicals in order to test emergency preparedness and responsiveness.
The drill, modeled after a chemical explosion at Texas Tech University in February 2015, operated under the premise that there had been a chemical explosion and leak of toxic gases involving a mix of nitric acid with formaldehyde, benzene and methane. The exercise was intended to be as realistic as possible, and the building was immediately evacuated.
Campus Safety, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Claremont Police Department responded to the scene, as well as HazMat services from Rancho Cucamonga and Montclair. However, one of the Fire Department teams left the scene during the drill to respond to a separate call.
Approximately fifteen students were asked to take on the role of an injured victim. A medical triage was set up to treat and care for victims at the scene. One of the students went through a simulated decontamination process following the incident.
Wayne Phan, Pomona’s chemical hygiene officer and emergency preparedness coordinator, organized the drill and recruited the student volunteers.
The drill included a press area, where spectators were informed that two students had been transferred to Pomona Valley Hospital. A press release informed students and reporters the same way they would have in a real emergency.
At 10:38 a.m., Campus Safety sent out a school-wide email informing students that the drill was taking place. The email very explicitly stated that a drill was taking place and that there was no actual emergency.
7th Street was closed off between Harvard Avenue and College Avenue in order to leave space to respond to the incident. Approximately 40 vehicles were displaced. Three off-campus faculty and staff houses across from Seaver North were included in the drill. However, no residences of people unaffiliated with the college were involved.
The chemical releases were controlled and harmless. Following the conclusion of the drill, the gas was cleaned up by North State Environmental.
Delfina Gonzalez PO ‘17, a student involved in the drill, said she felt confident that if a real drill were to happen, the authorities would be able to respond in the appropriate way. She said that the drill was definitely helpful, particularly for science departments and for the response team associated with Pomona and the town of Claremont.