Senior nurses earn valuable triage experience with mock disaster drill

Nursing students serve as first responders during a mock disaster drill held at Selu Conservancy's farmhouse recently.

Shrieks and wailing of victims injured in a mock rock concert gone wrong ripped Selu Conservancy’s stillness on Oct. 12.

The drill capped a two-day study of emergency management and simulated the carnage of a terrorist bombing to test the clinical skills and triage judgment of 30 nursing students. 

Ten of the students were moulaged and given symptoms of mock injuries and conditions that their colleagues had to assess and then treat. The drill was part of NURS 451 Community Health, taught by Assistant Professor of Nursing Erin Cruise and Emeritus Professor of Nursing Maggie Bassett.

The two-day session prepared nursing students to assess disaster risks in their communities and health care settings, educate the public and respond to disaster situations. From this class, the fourth-level students will move into their final clinical practicum rotations and be pinned on Friday, Dec. 16. 

Five regional emergency professionals briefed the students on the protocols of contemporary emergency management. The students were briefed on a wide range of public health emergencies, such as weather events, terrorism, chemical or radiological accidents or disease outbreaks. 

Jimi Gonce, a senior from Botetourt, was in charge of the first responders who entered the Selu farmhouse where they encountered their peers playing wounded and dying victims.

“The noise and chaos made for a stressful environment,” Gonce said of the rooms in which people screamed for help, moaned piteously and ran around in panic.  “It was hard to resist the urge to treat the victims because that is what I wanted to do.” 

At the hospital, Radford nursing students swing into action to assist victims of a mock disaster.

Gonce and her team’s responsibility was to assess the nature of the injuries suffered and prepare victims for transport to the hospital that was set up in the Selu classroom building. Treatment took place there under the guidance of Head Nurse Chris Nuckols, a senior from Max Meadows.  

“Communication was the biggest issue. I had to go find out what I needed to know as it often didn’t get relayed to me,” said Nuckols, who will graduate in December and move into a position at LewisGale Salem’s emergency room.

Cindy Custer, a veteran LPN from Franklin County who will graduate with her BSN in December, called the exercise “real life.”

“It was good for my younger colleagues to see this,” she said. “This is what people look like and how they behave."

David Linkous ’80, BSN ’83, local health emergency coordinator for the New River District of the Virginia Department of Health, created the scenario and was part of the expert panel that briefed the class during the run-up to the simulation. 

“Disaster triage is playing God,” Linkous said. “We teach them to sort, assess, intervene only when it is life threatening and then transport. In disaster triage, the needs always outnumber the resources.”

Linkous was pleased by the nurses’ treatment skills. In one instance, the hospital nurses correctly diagnosed a skull fracture from a tiny smear of purple paint behind one mock victim’s ear.

Linkous, who has 10 years of helicopter emergency and more emergency room experience, introduced the nursing students to emergency management in preparation for the drill along with four other professional emergency managers:

  • Paige Bordwine, district epidemiologist at the New River Health District
  • Grady DeVilbiss, director of Radford University’s Office of Emergency preparedness
  • Phil Hysell, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg
  • Tammy Turpin, emergency consultant for the Carilion Clinic Police Department

“The lesson here for these students is to figure out how they can provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” said Turpin as she watched the first responders in action.  “They can’t get caught up in the mess.” 

Jessica Akers, a senior from Richmond who will soon join VCU’s nursing staff, had a unique observation point.  She played an 8-year-old victim of the bombing who was also autistic.  She was to create as much noise and chaos as she could by distracting the first responders and hospital nurses.

“This drill is empowering. I saw how the community and my colleagues came together,” Akers said.

Preparing nurses for their roles in emergency management and disaster response have long been a part of this senior class in the Radford’s School of Nursing’s curriculum, according to Cruise. 

“We provide an intense and thorough look at the overall emergency management process during which we examine the nurses’ roles and prepare our students to fulfill them.” Cruise said. “The guest lecturers add an important perspective and share valuable experiences about a disaster situation, one vastly different from those in which they might practice.”  

Oct 18, 2016
Don Bowman
(540) 831-5048