MEMA grants fund emergency preparedness training at the University of Southern Maine

The University of Southern Maine (USM) Department of Public Safety will use money from two grants to improve emergency readiness on and around its campuses.

The State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) awarded a $10,000 grant exclusively to USM. The University is also one of 16 partner agencies that will share a second $30,000 grant.

The money is to be used over three years to pay for realistic drills that simulate natural disasters and human threats. The scenarios will include tabletop sessions and field exercises. Staging will span USM’s three campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston.

“I’m convinced that a well-prepared community is key to a safer campus,” said Gráinne Perkins, USM Public Safety Executive Director and Chief of Campus Police. “While this grant will help tackle our safety needs right now, it will also ensure everyone leaves here with safety smarts that stick around for life.”

Participation is not limited to campus police officers. The drills will require partner agencies, including neighboring police and fire departments, communications centers, and medical responders, to interact with Public Safety just as they would during a real emergency.

“USM Department of Public Safety is an excellent partner,” said Michael Durkin, Director of the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency (CCEMA). “In the event of an attack on campus, they would be the first to respond to it. That’s an important duty. Through this grant, they’ve shown commitment to preparing for that duty.”

University faculty, staff, and students will act out assigned roles in the drills. For those who aren’t participating, even a simulated emergency can be stressful. Public Safety plans to coordinate with University Health and Counseling Services to provide any needed emotional support.

The money for the project comes from a pool of Homeland Security Grant Funds that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency award annually to the states.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) administers the money at the state level by allocating SHSP grants to Maine’s 16 counties and six metro regions. Since 1999, the grants distributed by MEMA add up to more than $100 million.

“With this grant, we can bring in top-notch tech, resources, and skills from our partners,” said Perkins. “It’s like a behind-the-scenes upgrade that’ll make us super ready for whatever comes our way, even if folks don’t realize it at first glance.”

Only 30 percent of grant requests were approved last year. USM’s winning application was a collaborative effort between Perkins and CCEMA’s Chelsea Robbins. Perkins hopes to duplicate that success by exploring further grant opportunities for the Department of Public Safety.