Mock disaster prepares nursing students for real life situations

ALPENA – Alpena Community College RN nursing students were in for a big surprise when they attended their 9 a.m. class this morning. They were called to respond to a disaster in Park Arena. The scene was set up by nursing instructor Melissa Fournier, who has had training in moulage, and a few staff and former ACC nursing graduates.

Fournier’s mock disaster “victims” were 30 first semester RN students and second semester LPN students with various ailments ranging from severed limbs, lacerations, head trauma, electricution and shock. Ten RN’s set to graduate at the end of the semester had to assess the situation and attempt to treat the patients in a dark, dirty and unpredictable environment.

“The scene was a church roof that had collapsed in a gym, and help was delayed. No personnel could get to them for 45 minutes,” Fournier said. “It’s a learning experience in a dangerous environment. This helps to teach them how to traige and prioritize a large number of patients.”

The simulated mass casualty exercise had each RN outnumbered 3-to-1, and each victim had to be assessed and prioritized based on their injuries and mobility.

“I can tell them what it would be like, or I can put them in a realistic situation and show them,” Fournier said. “We ran through the mock disaster twice, went through their actions in the first run, then reassessed and ran the drill again.”

The students had a time delay of five minutes where they could see and hear the victims, but were not allowed to help them. With adrenaline pumping and a natural response to rush in and help, mistakes are often made that can cost a rescue worker their life. Fournier stressed to the students the importance of assessing the whole situation and getting a plan in order to be more efficient at treating victims before rushing in.

“The second time they ran through, they functioned way better as a team,” Fournier said.

She coached the students on proceedure during those type of situations by reminding them to look after themselves first.

“As an RN, you are the most trained in a situation like that,” Fournier said. “The delay of five minutes feels like an eternity, but you have to learn to fight that human nature. There is an emotional response, but you have to be able to control yourself. The scene has to be safe first. Keep calm, remove the hazards, and remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no help to anyone.”

Distractions such as a second structural collapse and opinions coming from other victims were meant to mimic a live disaster scene.

“It’s a loud scene,” faculty member Tony Pratt said. “This teaches them how to categorize victims, be effective and save the people that can be saved.”

Each graduating RN class goes through a similar mock disaster, teaching them how to prepare for a number of high-adrenaline scenarios in which they may find themselves.

“In the post 9-11 era we live in, they need to be prepared for whatever happens,” Fournier said. “They knew there would be a mock disaster, but didn’t know anything about the scenario. It’s a great exercise to learn how to respond safely and efficiently.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.