Students participate in simulated bioterrorism attack
What if a bioterrorist filled the Vines Center with a blinding fog of dangerous chemicals?
Dr. James McClintock from the Department of Biology and Chemistry wondered the same thing, so he organized a simulated attack on campus Saturday, March 28.
“It was rather eerie,” McClintock said. “We started the foggers about 8 a.m. By 11 a.m., you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you.”
Special agent for the Virginia State Police Counter Terrorism & Criminal Interdiction Unit. and Liberty alumnus Kevin Richards joined with Liberty faculty to host the simulation, aiming to give forensic science, biology and criminal justice students an opportunity to practice what they learned in class.
McClintock said the state police brought close to $1 million worth of equipment for the students to use during the simulation. Richards led a training session Thursday evening before the event to demonstrate proper use of the equipment.
“It wasn’t sadistic in its concept,” McClintock said. “It was really trying to expose the students to different techniques to detect or identify biological agents, chemical agents, radiological (and) nuclear.”
McClintock said LUPD knew about the event, but passing tours and tour guides needed some explanation about the realistic scene.
Inside the Vines Center, students collected drops of the fog and deposited those samples into containers, which looked like silver paint cans. They planned to test those sealed cans later. McClintock said he considered releasing a benign organism into the fog but decided against it.
“There (were) no bacteria in there,” McClintock said. “It (was) all pretend, but the students didn’t know that. As far as they knew, it was an actual release. They work with organisms in the laboratory, and you have organisms all over our body, so they’re safe. They live with us.”
In addition to collecting samples, students split into groups and focused on different tasks commonly associated with a response to a bioterrorist attack. Some breakout groups monitored chemical heat levels, while others scanned for radiological or nuclear activity.
“There were so many different skillsets that were required in that scenario that it really opened the students’ eyes to potential careers,” McClintock said.
McClintock has emphasized the importance of not just learning but application, moving skills from the classroom to the workplace.
“I’m very much a believer in what you learn this semester, let’s apply it this semester,” McClintock said. “So let’s learn how to use it now before you’re out in the field and (have forgotten) half of it. I’ve always tried to encourage my students (to) find something that (they) love, because if you’re going to do this 50 to 60 hours a week and get paid for it, you might as well love it.”
McClintock explained how future plans are calling for a law enforcement training exercise open to local police agencies.
“In the future, what we would like to do is expand the event so it’s more of a training exercise for local law enforcement,” McClintock said. “We’re looking at offering a certificate, where if they took so many classes, it could afford (participants) an opportunity (for a possible) promotion, and (they could) move up the ranks. Everyone would like to do that.”
McClintock has led other simulations, such as a realistic crime scene, on campus as a way for students to gain practical experience. A mock sexual assault trial is set for Thursday, April 23 to give students experience in the courtroom.
HOOSIER is a news reporter.