December 01, 2004

Train-car accident in downtown Carbondale Mock disaster will test students' skills

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale students training to become first-responders will test their skills during a full-scale mock disaster in downtown Carbondale on Thursday, Dec. 9.

The event will begin at 9 a.m. at the Amtrak station, 401 S. Illinois Ave. The students, enrolled in an advanced first aid class, will deal with multiple injuries resulting from a passenger train slamming into a car that was trying to cross the railroad tracks.

The drill, designed to be as realistic as possible short of actual experience, tests the response and rescue skills of students in Health Education 434, according to Peggy A. Wilken, a clinical assistant professor at SIUC who teaches the class.


Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the mock disaster, and organizers ask that media personnel be in place when the exercise begins at 9 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 9. For information prior to the event, contact SIUC clinical assistant professor Peggy A. Wilken at 618/453-2777. The media contact during the exercise is Health Education and Recreation Department Chair David A. Birch.


This is the seventh mock disaster Wilken has organized. In addition to serving as the students' final exam, the intense exercise "is the practicum where they have to show their skills" as part of their training to become first-responders - the first medically trained personnel on the scene of a disaster or accident, Wilken said.

"We know that the first people on scene are some of the most important people we have - they usually make the difference in the life and death of a person," she said.

There will be five "victims" in the vehicle, and numerous injured passengers on the train. As Carbondale firefighters work to extricate victims from the car and train, the 20 students will arrive and immediately begin helping the injured. The victims are in full make-up; Wilken even purchased intestine casings to add to the realism.

"The idea is to make them as confused as possible and then their skills are going to have to pull them through," she said. "They have to go on automatic pilot and do what they believe they have been trained to do."

This will be the first "disaster" experience for most of the students.

"They are young, they are learning, and we all know that we can make improvements," Wilken said.

To that end, Wilken and the students will review videotapes of the students' performance. In addition to using them for grading, Wilken uses the tapes to assess her work in the classroom.

Wilken's attention to detail, including her scrutiny of the videotapes, impresses David A. Birch, chair of Health Education and Recreation.

"These simulations are excellent examples of authentic assessment in which students are actually evaluated in a situation that is as close to real-life as possible," he said.

Wilken's students are participating from 9:30 to 11 a.m. But the work won't end there, as the victims are transported to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. Hospital staff will use the disaster to test their own mass casualty plan, Wilken said.

A variety of agencies and volunteers are participating in the exercise, and Wilken is grateful for the assistance. Many of those involved are donating their time.

"It is really a plus for us that these agencies want to be involved and it shows that we can work together," she said.

The agencies involved include: Amtrak, Canadian National Railroad, Carbondale police and fire departments, Jackson County Ambulance Service, Jackson County Emergency Management, SIUC Department of Public Safety, SIUC Health Services, SIUC Travel Service, SIUC Theater Department, Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, Dowell Fire Department and ARCH Air Medical Service.

Promoting excellence in undergraduate programs and collaborating with community programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.