Posted: Wednesday, March 13th 2013 at 4:49pm
Learning to deal with disaster
By Rob Moore Editor
Smoke fills the air at a simulated chemistry lab explosion at Piedmont College Wednesday morning. (Photo/Rob Moore)
DEMOREST – The crisp morning breeze was pierced by the sounds of screams and sirens Wednesday as more than 75 victims lay injured near the Swanson Center off College Drive in Demorest, smoke filling the air around them.
Fortunately, the surreal scene was part of the annual Piedmont College Nursing Program’s disaster drill, held in cooperation with emergency personnel from Habersham County and Demorest.
Paged out at 9:56 a.m., the event was a simulated chemistry lab explosion with mass casualties and numerous hazards.
Under the scenario, an acetylene tank tipped over and blew, resulting in subsequent explosions, including sulfuric acid.
“In this case we had some really significant burns, we had some inhalation injuries, we had our standard evisceration and stake through the chest, bumps, bruises, abrasions, couple of broken bones here and there, lacerations,” said Dr. Linda Scott, dean of the Piedmont College School of Nursing. “We do this every year to give our students the exposure to a disaster situation before they encounter one in real life. It’s a real neat critical thinking exercise for them.”
Scott said 55 senior nursing students from both the Demorest and Athens campuses participated in the medical response team at Wednesday morning’s drill, responding to 77 junior nursing student “victims” from the two campuses.
During the drill, an actual medical emergency arose with one of the nurses involved in responding to the scenario.
“We shut down the drill,” Scott said. “We stopped drilling right then until she was taken care of and taken the hospital. She had an asthma attack.”
But that wasn’t the only real emergency during the drill.
“We just sent another one, who was one of the victims, that’s probably going to end up being a real patient,” Scott said. “She was really cold.”
Scott said that’s dangerous because the young woman could get hypothermic and “systems will start to shut down.”
Scott tried to prepare for the cool morning conditions.
“I went to the mall [Tuesday] and bought out every foil blanket I could get because I knew it was going to be cold here today,” Scott said.
Scott said the program teaches nursing students the incident command system, including who’s in charge and various roles.
Because chemicals were involved, the situation was treated as a hazardous materials incident. Each victim, as well as emergency personnel entering the scene, had to go through a decontamination tent set up near the scene.
Victims then were triaged by medical personnel on scene, and were taken to the emergency room at Habersham Medical Center.
As part of the exercise, Habersham EMS supervisors on scene also had 9-1-1 dispatchers call surrounding counties for available ambulances, hospital beds, and also to check on the availability of medical helicopters to transport the injured.
Habersham County Fire Department Lt. Dwight McNally was one of the hazardous materials personnel helping with decontamination of victims and personnel.
“We’re just grateful to be out here and help the nurses learn,” McNally said. “We appreciate the invite and they did a good job.”
The drill also is beneficial to Habersham Medical Center.
McKenzie said the nursing students performed well during the exercise.
"During our debriefing, our staff commented on how well the nursing students responded," she said. "The nursing students accompanied the victims to the emergency department, and upon arrival our staff worked alongside them to help them administer advanced 'treatment.' Since sulfuric acid was involved in the simulated disaster, we were also able to utilize the emergency department’s decontamination room and other specialized training and equipment. Habersham Medical Center meets FEMA requirements for disaster preparedness by participating in state Public Health, GEMA and Georgia Hospital Association programs. Due to this federally-funded program, we have received equipment and training to manage disasters of dramatic proportions."
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