Mass Disaster Simulation Prepares Students For The Worst

Texas A&M health professions students took part in the nation’s largest interprofessional disaster response simulation.

By Lindsey Hendrix, Texas A&M University Health Science Center
Image by Sam Craft, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications

With Texas’ sheer size, it should come as no surprise that the Lone Star State has the highest frequency of extreme weather events in the United States. From hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and tornadoes in the Panhandle, to explosions at industrial plants and mass human violence, disaster can strike — and has — at almost any place and time.

It’s because of this high risk that Texas is well prepared to respond and recover, and thanks to Texas A&M University, our future health professionals are no exception.

The Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) on Friday conducted the largest student-led interprofessional disaster response simulation in the nation. Aptly called Disaster Day, this large-scale drill teaches health professions students how to work collaboratively to manage disasters and provide timely and appropriate patient care.

Disaster Day was created by the Texas A&M College of Nursing in 2008 and is now facilitated through the Texas A&M Health Office of Interprofessional Education and Research (IPER). Now in its 12th year, students from across Texas A&M Health at the colleges of nursing, medicine, pharmacy and public health, as well as psychology and veterinary students and the Corps of Cadets, take part in the one-day event. It is held at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Brayton Fire Training Field and Disaster City, a world class, 52-acre mock city that serves as a training facility for emergency responders.

“We are very fortunate here in Bryan-College Station to be in close proximity to one of the best training facilities in the nation for first responders, where entities from around the world come to train,” said Martin Mufich, director of disaster preparedness, response and recovery in the IPER office at Texas A&M Health. “In addition, Texas A&M is home to the Texas Division of Emergency Management and Texas A&M Task Force 1, one of 28 federal teams under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Urban Search and Rescue System.”

For the live action simulation, a new scenario is selected each year and kept secret until event day to provide the realism of an unexpected situation. Last year’s event was a chemical explosion and building collapse, and this year’s event simulated an earthquake where more than 700 students engaged in triage at the disaster site, patient care at a mock field hospital and disaster management and simulation oversight at Disaster City’s Emergency Operations Training Center.

The students had to react to mass “injuries,” with other students in makeup portraying victims with varying degrees of wounds from cuts to compound fractures. The students mimicked panicked patients as they screamed, cried and pleaded for help. At the end of each exercise, instructors and other observers critiqued student teams on their clinical skills, teamwork and communication to help improve their skills for a real-life disaster and their practice after graduation.

“It takes students out of their usual clinical element and makes them think quickly in what can be an uncomfortable environment,” Mufich said. “Practicing this way is valuable because these situations can happen in the real world.”

Nicole Mancuso, a graduate of the College of Nursing, can attest to this. She was working in a Las Vegas emergency room during the mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip in October 2017.

“It was complete chaos — we had people come in from the lobby, along with those brought in by emergency medical services,” Mancuso said. “High adrenaline and a sense of duty helped me keep my composure. You have to stay calm in these situations, for the sake of the patient.”

She credits her training at the college and involvement in Disaster Day for teaching her how to appropriately triage and treat patients in mass casualty scenarios.

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