Tabletop Exercise 6: Chemistry Teacher Drops Beaker Containing Mercury
Traces of mercury were found in school hallways and in the homes of students who were in the classroom at the time of the incident.
While most K-12 schools and colleges have emergency plans in place, some of those plans can go years without being touched. Incidents such as tornadoes, earthquakes or active shooters are rare, but the time to find out whether or not your plans and procedures are effective is not during a real emergency.
Practicing your campus’ response to various emergencies is vital to keeping constituents safe. Since full-scale exercises pose significant challenges for many organizations and require lots of resources, conducting a tabletop exercise is a good alternative that can be done on a regular basis.
During these exercises, relevant stakeholders should be brought to the table and presented with real-life scenarios. Each stakeholder should share how they would handle the scenario and a subsequent debriefing should be held to address strengths and weaknesses within emergency plans.
Are you interested in conducting these exercises but are unsure where to start? As a jumping-off point, Guy Bliesner, an analyst for the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security (IOSSS), has provided us with incidents that happened at Idaho schools in the last five years and how those particular schools responded.
Each scenario provides details of the event, along with the real outcome and findings from an after-action report. They are designed to be completed in 10-15 minutes as part of an administrative meeting.
Here are the links to the previous scenarios:
- Tabletop Exercise 1: Student Hasn’t Returned Home from School. What Would You Do?
- Tabletop Exercise 2: Worsening Odor Leads to Student Asthma Attack
- Tabletop Exercise 3: Loud Voices, Smell of Alcohol Coming from Main Office
- Tabletop Exercise 4: Minivan with 4 Students Rear-ends School Bus
- Tabletop Exercise 5: School Loses Power as Temperature Drops
The next scenario is detailed below.
- Season: Mid-winter
- Day: Wednesday
- Time: 2:56 P.M.
- Weather: Overcast with intermittent rain/snow
- Temperature: 33 degrees
- School type: Elementary (K-5)
- Event: It is nearing the end of the day. The dismissal bell will ring in 4 minutes. A student tells the principal that a teacher engaged in a science experiment dropped a glass beaker containing mercury. The beaker has broken and an unknown quantity of the mercury has spilled onto the carpeted floor of the classroom. What next steps should be taken?
How the School Handled the Situation
By the time the principal got to the classroom, the end of day bell had rung and the teacher already allowed the 19 students to leave the classroom. The teacher was cleaning up the broken glass when the principal entered the classroom and the custodian was called in.
The custodian, a volunteer firefighter, recognizes the hazmat nature of the mercury spill incident, and the local fire chief is contacted. Under his authority, the state hazmat team is mobilized. The team arrives at the school just prior to 7:00 P.M. and the classroom is closed and abate measures are instated.
The hazmat team finds traces of mercury in the hallways moved from the classroom on students’ shoes. Each of the students is contacted at their home and shoes and clothing are checked for mercury. Two students’ shoes are found to be contaminated. The bus ridden by one of those students is also found to have trace amounts of mercury.
The entire school is closed for two days as the abatement process is performed on the classroom, two hallways, one school bus, and two private homes. The school district is financially responsible for the mercury abatement costs.
After-Action Review Findings
An after-action review (AAR) of a response should always be completed following an incident. See Part 1 for questions that IOSSS says should be used to review a response.
The AAR in this case determined the hazmat incident was not well handled and no protocol existed in district policy. As a result:
- Chemical storage and handling procedures were reviewed and a chemical hygiene plan was developed
- Chemistry class curriculum was reviewed, as was substance use and storage
- Chemicals not directly related to the curriculum were identified and removed from storage
Check back with us on Jan. 6 for the next scenario which involves an armed robber barricading himself in a home the street across from a school.
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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!