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Posted: Saturday, March 31st 2012 at 7:47am

Personnel tend to 65 'victims' following mock bomb explosion

By Rob Moore
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This is the scene responding emergency personnel found at Piedmont College Wednesday morning. (Photo/Rob Moore)
DEMOREST – "Station 5, Station 2, 2100, need to respond to Piedmont College … possible bomb, possible explosion." Those are the chilling words uttered by a Habersham County 9-1-1 dispatcher to fire and EMS personnel at 9:59 a.m. Wednesday.

Seconds later, the campus emergency alert siren activated as the sirens of emergency vehicles echoed through the streets of Demorest en route to the Swanson Center.

Responding emergency personnel likely could not have imagined what they were about to see when they pulled in the parking lot of the Arrendale Amphitheater adjacent to the Swanson Center. The scene was surreal – smoke billowing from debris and more than 60 students on the ground with various stages of injuries.

Injuries to 65 junior nursing students were designed to look real, with the help of the college’s theater department. Injuries ranged from very minor to a piece of wood through a student’s chest, an arm amputation, and even several that resulted in death.

The college’s 29 senior nursing students responded as part of the medical team.

“This was very, very nerve-wracking at first, actually,” said Houman Zamani, a senior nursing student who responded as part of the college medical team. “But when we got into it, it was kind of second nature.”

Zamani, who works at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said, “It kind of fell into place as we went.”

The nurses helped EMS and fire department personnel with assessing and transporting patients. A total of 64 injured or “deceased” students were transported from the scene – most to nearby Habersham Medical Center.

“The worst injury was the piece of wood that was right through the chest,” Zamani said, who added that young man could not be saved and was assigned a black tag.

Zamani said he personally treated “four or five” patients during the exercise.

“It actually helps us with real-life situations,” Zamani said. “We encounter these in clinicals and as we go into our jobs as nurses, we encounter these things every day so we need to be prepared for it.”

A unified command structure was utilized at the scene as personnel from Demorest, Cornelia, Habersham County and Clarkesville fire departments, Habersham Emergency Medical Services, Habersham Emergency Management Agency, Demorest and Piedmont College police departments, and the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office worked together on the scene.

Nursing students said they learned from the drill, and some said it reinforced their reasons for becoming a nurse.

“The reason why I wanted to be a nurse is because I want to help people,” said senior nursing student Gwen Smith, for whom nursing is a second career. “I love people – love to care for ‘em. I’m a big volunteer, so I thought I’d take the next step and become an actual nurse.”

“We had just finished our critical thinking test,” Smith said of the timing of the disaster drill. “So we used our critical thinking skills today.”

“I am the green team leader, which is the walking wounded, so therefore I took care of most of the hysterical people – the ones that needed to be comforted, the ones that could walk and I needed to get them out of harm’s way so the rest of our team could take care of the more advanced injuries,” Smith said.

Asked what she learned from the drill, Smith said, “That you can never be too prepared. We spend a lot of time because everybody knows that there is a disaster drill going on every year.

“You come in the mindset that you know what you’re going to do but when you’re actually there you kind of sometimes freeze up or things are not going in the places you think, so just follow your instincts,” Smith said. “Have faith in what they’ve taught you.”

Another challenge of Wednesday’s drill was the presence of “Occupy Demorest” and “Occupy Swanson” protesters, students carrying signs and yelling at emergency personnel. One student was “arrested” for interfering with patient care at the scene.

“This is the sixth drill we’ve done,” said Linda Scott, dean of the Piedmont College School of Nursing, who served as triage officer for Wednesday’s exercise.

Asked to reflect on this year’s drill, Scott said, “Wow! It was pretty impressive from the standpoint that we had more patients than we’ve ever had and the nurses had a lot more patients to take care of. There were 29 seniors to take care of 65 juniors.”

“It was a very complicated scenario, because we had a bomb that went off and then a second bomb was discovered that was unexploded, so we had to clear the scene,” Scott said. “That’s very hard for the students when they have patients out there screaming for help and they can’t come back into the scene.”

“I think it gives them a lot of confidence,” Scott said of the disaster drill. “They realize they know more than they think they do, and they have to critically think. They have to go in there and decide who can be triaged in different categories.”

“It’s a good experience,” Zamani said. “It definitely prepares you for what is to come actually.”
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