Learning how to handle disasters

ALPENA – Alpena Community College nursing students put their skills to the test Friday during a mock disaster scenario involving a sarin gas attack set in the Granum Theater, and spreading through to several other rooms.

The second year, second semester nurses were called in as the first line of help in the disaster, and 14 of them worked to treat over 40 victims, with several casualties. The scenario was set by nursing alumni, staff and instructor Melissa Fournier, who has been trained in moulage, and wanted to have the RN students experience a disaster situation to prepare them on how to respond.

“Each one of the victims had varying degrees of sarin exposure,” Fournier said. “Sarin is a biological nerve agent, and can cause death quickly with respiratory or skin exposure.”

Victims of the mock disaster were second year, first semester nursing students, along with first year, second semester students, and community volunteers.

The scene was a party with over 40 people in attendance, and the liquid and gas sarin was transported to the party within balloons. Once these balloons popped, mass chaos ensued with victims screaming for help, coughing and twitching from the effects of the gas. The victims played their parts well as nurses came into the scene to assess the situation.

“It’s a great way to get the adrenaline going and simulate a situation like this for the students,” Fournier said. “They were outnumbered, and in a mass casualty that will happen. Resources are overwhelmed, there is always going to be chaos. The students did very well, especially the second time we ran the drill. They functioned as a team and kept calm. It was important they knew how to not become a victim themselves. Even through the adrenaline the scene always has to be assessed first.”

Members of the Community Emergency Response Team also were at the mock disaster to help assist the students with control of the scene. The CERT team regularly attends trainings for this and other types of disasters to offer assistance with crowd control and other jobs to allow the emergency responders to perform their jobs. Coordinator Audette Miller said these types of training are great for everyone to learn from, and the CERT team is always looking for additional volunteers.

Besides being exposed and infected themselves, victims also could spread the gas to their responders, causing them to become exposed. That possible exposure was just one of the many obstacles students had to learn about and overcome while trying to save victims and get them to a safe location.

During the exercise, the nurses learned to triage, prioritize and evacuate victims during a disaster, all while keeping calm and using what they’ve learned to help treat the victims.

“There are certain things the book will and can teach you, but in situations like this, you have to have the experience, you have to learn how to handle the stress and adrenaline,” Fournier said. “It’s important to be trained on how to respond to a mass casualty situation because there could be one at any time. They need to be ready for anything.”

Fournier said the students did a very good job with the little information they had, and that the second run of the drill was even better than the first.

“They worked together and really took in the situation,” she said. “The level two second semester students and the CERT team did an excellent job in responding to the mock terror threat at ACC. It is a great learning experience for everyone involved.”

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