January 28, 2005

Mock disaster to test students' skills

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The scenario is frightening: a car bomb exploding on campus.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale students training to become first-responders will test their skills and mettle during a full-scale mock disaster on Thursday, Dec. 8.

The simulated disaster begins at 9:30 a.m. in the southeast end of Lot 45, southeast of the Student Recreation Center. The students, enrolled in an advanced first aid class, will deal with multiple injuries resulting from a car bomb. The exercise will run until about 11 a.m.

The drill is in its eighth year, and is designed to be as realistic as possible short of an actual experience, according to Peggy A. Wilken, a clinical assistant professor at SIUC who teaches Health Education 434. The disaster tests the response and rescue skills of the 13 students in Wilken's 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 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 8. 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 Brian M. Rice, a clinical instructor in the Heath Education and Recreation Department. For media interested in covering pre-event makeup, please arrive by 8:45 a.m.


The intense exercise serves as the students' final exam in their effort to become first-responders – the first medically trained personnel on the scene of a disaster or accident. Those critical moments can be the difference, Wilken said, explaining that it is essential for students to be on "automatic pilot" and rely on their skills and training.

"Just like building a strong house you have to have a good foundation," she said. "For those people who are first on the scene, if you can get airway breathing and circulation, that is the difference between life and death."

She recalls an incident a few years ago when a student, just after completing his final exam, was the first to arrive when a pedestrian was hit by a car and suffered bi-lateral femur breaks. The student was the "first on the scene to take charge" and knew what to do, she said.

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

There will be up to eight "victims" as a result of the car bomb. As Carbondale and Dowell firefighters work to extricate victims from the car, the students will arrive and immediately begin to help the injured.

"I want them to take control of the scene and treat patients," she said.

Previous "disasters" have included an airplane crash, train-car collision, car-bus collision, tornado, earthquakes, and a tactical response team.

Wilken emphasizes the exercise could not be as elaborate or successful without the assistance of many agencies. Kathryn Wagner, an assistant professor, and Jennifer Peterson, a teaching assistant in SIUC's theater department "actually make the disaster" with their makeup work on the "victims," Wilken said.

She praises the emergency responder agencies and other volunteers involved – many who participate on a day off – to help her students.

"They are committed to their profession and are willing to come in on their days off, so the next generation of students will step up," she said.

Former students include athletic trainers, fire and EMS personnel, and safety officers with major industries.

Participating paramedics and emergency medical technicians evaluate the students' work, as do the "victims," on details including whether all the injuries were found and the care they received. Wilken also reviews videotape of the students' performances and goes over the observations with students in class.

It is also fun for Wilken, who gets to see the "total dimension" of emergency response.

"I get to work with really wonderful people," she said. "We have a lot of people doing a lot of good things out here and I get to work with people who are the best in the area. I learn from them."

Agencies involved this year include: Carbondale police and fire departments, Jackson County Ambulance Service, Jackson County Emergency Management, SIUC Department of Public Safety and the department's Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, SIUC Student Health Services, SIUC Travel Service, SIUC theater department, Dowell Fire Department and ARCH Air Medical Service.

Promoting excellence through undergraduate programs and collaborating with community programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.