From Special Collections: Constructive Destruction – Operation Highsmith

slider image option one : 
Archival photo of Highsmith Union

It is probably fortunate that UNC Asheville does not regularly feature in the pages of The Fire and Rescue Journal, published by the NC Department of Insurance, Office of the State Fire Marshall, but in the fall of 2002 the university made the front page.

The reason was Operation Highsmith, described as “the State’s largest terrorism and structural collapse exercise,” which the Office of the State Fire Marshall had organized during May 20-24, 2002.

For five days the campus’ Highsmith Center hosted 250 personnel from response teams from local, state and federal agencies across North Carolina, as they participated in, “mock drills and exercises involving simulations of hazardous materials leaks, bioterrorism events, terrorist attacks, and hostage and bomb scenarios.” Sections of the building were also demolished so that rescuers could practice working with heavy machinery.

There are no photographs of the exercise in the University Archives, but The Fire and Rescue Journal described teams wrangling with “refrigerators, concrete jersey barriers, lumber and ropes,” and maneuvering “cranes, Bobcat tractors, saws and welding torches.” A rescue dog was even lowered into the building through a hole in the roof.

Thankfully, neither the dog nor anyone else, seems to have been harmed during the exercise.

To read the full story, visit the Special Collections and University Archives blog