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Drill helps UNG prepare in the event of disaster

Mock disaster post event 2017
A UNG student acting as a "victim" (left) pretends to be in a state of shock while another UNG student (right) works to treat him during a mock disaster event on UNG's Gainesville Campus.

One of the most difficult tasks a health care professional can undertake is the onsite assessment and care of people caught in a large-scale disaster.

To help faculty, staff and health care students learn what to do in the event of such a catastrophe, the University of North Georgia (UNG) pulled departments and personnel together to hold a mock disaster event on March 8.

Held on the university's Gainesville Campus, the event simulated the aftermath of a tornado, and involved dozens of faculty as well as more than 400 students. Nearly 200 first-year nursing, physical therapy and clinical mental health counseling students played the "victims" while 226 students beyond their first year of health care study split into 16 rescue teams, working to locate, triage and treat the "patients" throughout the exercise.

"Watching students, faculty, staff, public safety and other partners pull together to hold this event was amazing," said Dr. Carolynn DeSandre, assistant dean of UNG's College of Health Sciences & Professions and director of the exercise. "It was clearly a valuable exercise to our students, and we feel confident that the experience will serve them well should they ever be called on to help in a real-life scenario of this magnitude."

As the event began, student rescue teams entered the mock disaster site, where many dozens of "victims" were either milling about in disarray or lying still on the ground, some under fake debris. The teams worked to identify various grades of injury to determine which victims were in need of the most immediate care. When the teams located casualties that required more advanced treatment, specialized "manikins" — jointed models of the human body often used in anatomy classes or labs — were brought in to replace the student actor and accurately simulate the wounds. Patients were treated at a temporary emergent care center set up in the Simulation Lab.

Aly Hicks is a senior in UNG's Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program who wants to work in critical care after she graduates, and said the event was very helpful in preparing her for any similar situations she could face in the future.

"The scene was much more realistic than I anticipated, and the actors did a really good job of making it seem serious and life-like," she said.

Mary Beth Memmel, a junior BSN student, played the role of a victim with a broken collarbone, and said she wanted to do her best to make the situation as realistic as possible for the benefit of her fellow students acting as rescuers and caregivers.

"I think the most stressful thing for me, if I were taking the role of a rescuer or responder, would be trying to act fast to help people but also ensuring that I am accurate and correct in the care I provide," Memmel said. "That's why I want to help put a bit of pressure on the students rescuing and taking care of us, so they can draw on this experience later if they need to."

The exercise also included university personnel who practiced dissemination of information about the "disaster" through digital communications and a mock press conference. UNG's Department of Public Safety also had nine officers training alongside the students.

UNG has held similar events in the past, including drills simulating an active shooter scenario and the aftermath of an earthquake. DeSandre said it is the College of Health Sciences & Professions' goal to have an event like this every year.

"Emergency preparedness training and practice is rarely included in traditional health profession curricula. These events give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to learn important skills while building engagement throughout our college and the UNG family," DeSandre said. "It also increases awareness of university protocols, procedures and resources in the event of a true disaster."

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