Disaster drill prepares nursing students for real-world

ALYSSA EMMETT & NATHAN BLACKBURN Contributing writers

Explosions and cries for help were heard coming from the Arrendale Amphitheater on Wednesday, March 22. Many died and there were countless victims suffering horrific wounds. And it was all for a good cause.

Piedmont College’s RH Daniel School of Nursing, Theater Department and area emergency agencies came together to an annual disaster drill.

“It’s a tradition of Piedmont College to hold the disaster drill,” said Karen Greilich, assistant professor of nursing. “This event tests the skills of the senior-level nursing students in the areas of prioritization and triage.”

Piedmont College is the only school in the Southeast to hold an event like this for nursing students. In the past, themes for the drill have included a boiler explosion, a small plane crash and a gas tank explosion. This year’s theme was “a rock concert gone wrong,” as protesters stopped the concert at the Arrendale Amphitheatre with bombs.

There were 91 juniors in the School of Nursing & Health Sciences who played the role of victims, and 60 seniors who were called on to respond.

“It was a much more realistic scenario than what they have done in the past,” said Piedmont College Police Chief Marie Taylor.

Students were given different descriptions for their cause of injury, and makeup was applied to their bodies to reflect their assigned injuries. Students in the Theatre Department assisted with the makeup application process in the early morning before the event, but had prepared the prosthetics and wounds days prior.

“We began preparing three days before, seting up the makeup rooms and building the prosthetics and wounds,” said Henry Johnson, associate professor of theater. “It took us about two days to build all of the prosthetics.”

In addition to preparing makeup, the various pyrotechnics and smoke machines that simulated the explosions were tested days before the drill to ensure they would operate smoothly.

“It’s basically black powder and coffee creamer,” Henry said. “It shoots a ball of flame and smoke into the air.”

After the initial explosion, emergency personnel, including the Piedmont College Police Department, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office and the Demorest Fire Department, arrived on the scene. Once the area was declared safe, nursing students took center stage, assessing injuries and placing victims into ambulances if needed.

Senior Haley Vasser was one of those nursing students.

“By doing this event, I have learned how to incorporate the skills and experiences I have accumulated throughout the years,” she said. “It makes you realize everything ties in together. I know what I’m learning will allow me to help my patients.”

The nursing students are graded on their performance based on how well they treated and diagnosed their victim. Greilich said the involvement of multiple agencies helps make the drill more realistic.

“If there were a real disaster, these agencies would need to be involved to use their skills to make sure everything is as it should be,” she said, adding that some changes were implemented making this year’s drill different from previous drills. As a nursing student, Vasser noted one significant change.

“Last year, the nurses swarmed the scene and did not correlate with the EMS or the police,” she said. “However, this year we were not allowed to go on the scene until it was cleared by EMS or the police. Even then, it was EMS command. Basically, we were there for help, which is how it is in real life.”

In addition to student training, Taylor said the drill is also beneficial to professional first responders. “Anything can happen anywhere, at any time,” she said. “We just want to be prepared for it.”