Campus News
student reporters scrum a woman at a podium
DCM students Noreve Gay Belarmino, Rachel Gelowitz and Julia Fletcher interview Nanton Mayor Jennifer Handley during a mock disaster training scenario Oct. 6.

Lethbridge College Digital Communications and Media (DCM) students got some valuable “on-the-scene” experience early in the semester thanks to their participation in a mock disaster conducted by the communities within the Municipal District of Willow Creek.

The exercise consisted of a series of simulated EF3 tornados touching down in the communities of Nanton, Claresholm, Stavely, Fort Macleod and Granum. The scenario involved casualties, a loss of power, extensive infrastructure damage, impassable roads, a train derailment, plane crash and multiple fires. EF is a six-point scale to measure the intensity of wind damage. An EF3 will have wind speeds of 225 to 265 km/h, according to Environment Canada.

Second-year DCM students played the role of journalists and attended media conferences on Oct. 5 over Zoom and on Oct. 6 in Fort Macleod to question municipal officials about their crisis response, recovery and public accountability.

“We had no prior knowledge of the disaster scenario, so we were able to practise our listening and questioning techniques in real time,” says Rachel Gelowitz, DCM student. “It was helpful to get practical experience in a safe environment where all parties are learning.”

Students also gained insight on media relations activities and observed best practices for planning and organizing online and in-person media events, which is part of their Professional Media Communication course.

student reporters scrum a person at a podium
DCM students replicated a media scrum for participating community officials.

On the other side of the podium, mayors and elected officials from participating municipalities honed their messaging and media presentation skills by fielding questions from a large group of student reporters. For some, it was their first time interacting with journalists in that environment.

“Not everyone has experience standing in front of a media scrum and answering questions while lights, cameras and microphones are pointed at them,” says Martina Emard, DCM instructor. “I’m glad students were able to provide that learning opportunity to participating community officials.”

An event debriefing at the conclusion of the in-person media scrum had students, instructors and community officials share their experiences from both sides of the camera. The exchange of information will help to enhance the skills and knowledge of all involved when it comes to working in, and with, media to deliver pertinent information to citizens.

“Crisis communications is never easy, especially during large-scale emergencies,” says Mark Murphy, exercise director. “The participation of Lethbridge College was an excellent addition to this exercise, as students played a pivotal role in helping communities within the MD of Willow Creek be better prepared to respond and recover from these incidents.”

To learn more about the Digital Communications and Media program, visit the Lethbridge College website.