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Students and health professionals learn care for mass casualty disasters

Mass Casualty Care Course Fall 2013
Jim Zerylnick tells students of the Fundamentals of Mass Casualty course what they can expect during a critical event.

When a natural disaster or catastrophic event happens, leaving hundreds or thousands of people in need of medical care, how do local emergency and healthcare professionals keep the situation controlled?

They don't, according to Jim Zerylnick, manager of operation and training at Emory Healthcare's Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, during a recent Fundamentals of Mass Casualty Care course at the University of North Georgia (UNG). The course was directed primarily to nursing students, but included paramedics, nurses, nurse practitioners, emergency management personnel, and members of the military.

"If everything is under control and going smoothly, then it's not a disaster," Zerylnick told the group.

Zerylnick regularly instructs people in caring for casualties of "critical events" that can leave masses of people gravely wounded and in need of urgent medical attention. These situations require a different approach than a standard busy night in a hospital's emergency room, and this preparation course, which is funded by the Health Resources Services Administration, trains attendees in what to expect and how to most effectively care for casualties while supporting teammates and keeping themselves safe.

"These events are something that can happen anywhere, anytime," said Melissa Furnish, assistant professor of nursing at UNG. "The nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau, is sponsoring this event, because it values educational opportunities for its students. We want our nursing students to know that even though they are students, they have a responsibility to help when something like this happens, and we want them and the public to be prepared for it."

The course covers many topics for emergency responders, from how to assess the scene and patients to how to recognize what is going on in their own bodies during a critical event.

"What is your body going through during these times?" Zerylnick asked. "Your fight-or-flight response has kicked in, your adrenaline has spiked, your heart rate is up, some senses may be dulled while others are heightened, your sense of time becomes distorted, and many other things. It's good to be able to recognize why you are feeling the way you are in these moments."

The course covered critical events, from earthquakes and terrorist attacks to accidental explosions, and offered quick-reference guides and skills to help responders classify the event and its casualties to maintain efficient communications and care. Zerylnick also offered personal tips, such as taking one's own supplies—flashlights, food, water, etc.—rather than relying on local agencies to furnish equipment and rations.

"More and more medical schools are now incorporating these kinds of courses into their curriculums, but UNG has always been incredibly proactive about this," Zerylnick said.

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