Published on April 5, 2016 by Katie Stripling  

Samford University’s College of Health Sciences simulated an emergency response today to help prepare future health-care providers to respond in the event of a campus or community emergency. In partnership with the American Red Cross, Homewood Fire and Police, Jefferson County EMA, North Flight, and the Regional Paramedic Services, the College of Health Sciences simulated the aftermath of an earthquake resulting in injuries ranging from psychological impact to fatalities. Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Homewood, Alabama, was set up as an American Red Cross Emergency Response Center. Students played the roles of both first responders and victims, and community partners interacted with the students as they would in an actual disaster.

Students gained valuable experience with the patient triage process. Responders encountered victims with a variety of medical situations that could result in the event of an earthquake, including amputated limbs, childbirth, debris inhalation, electrocution, psychological damage and more. A North Flight helicopter was on the scene for students to practice preparing critical patients for air transport.

“In today’s world, it is essential that health-care providers be prepared to respond in the event of a crisis,” said Nena F. Sanders, vice provost of Samford’s College of Health Sciences. “In the College of Health Sciences, we know that our graduates are providing care to people around the world in a variety of circumstances, and the conveniences that we find in our hospitals aren’t always available. The disaster simulation allows students to improve their ability to triage and treat sick and injured patients outside traditional care settings, making them better prepared to care for patients and families, and to make meaningful contributions in the event of a disaster.” 

More than 300 students participated in the learning experience, representing a number of programs and departments, including undergraduate nursing, communication sciences and disorders, family nurse practitioner, kinesiology, nurse anesthesia, pharmacy, public health, social work, and university counseling services. Community volunteers, including senior adults from Dawson Memorial Baptist Church and local children, also played the role of victims.

“A primary goal of this event is to help students learn to work effectively on multidisciplinary teams,” said Jill Pence, assistant professor and coordinator of undergraduate simulation in Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing. “In this environment, students not only hone their discipline specific skills and knowledge, but also learn the importance of leveraging the strengths of the other health professions to improve patient outcomes.”

According to Jefferson County EMA Emergency Management Officer Horace Walker, the importance of teamwork and effective communication are key takeaways from this exercise. “Students gained an understanding of how this type of event will be managed, the scope of the response and the value of solid communication,” he said. “It is our hope that students leave with an understanding of the importance of team work in a time of crisis and how they can become valuable contributors to emergency response teams,” he added.

This is the first year that the American Red Cross has participated in the simulation. To make the response center as realistic as possible, the Red Cross provided supplies and an emergency response vehicle to aid with responder support during the simulation. These services are examples of realistic relief efforts that health professionals would rely on during disaster relief.

This is the fifth annual disaster simulation, but the first time the event has occurred off-campus and the first time such a large number of students have participated. The number of student and faculty participants doubled from last year’s simulation, and plans are already underway for next year’s event.

“Events such as this are important because they provide a controlled learning environment for students where they can receive constructive criticism and become better equipped to handle real-life situations,” said Barry Rich, Regional Paramedic Services (RPS) operations manager for Chilton, Shelby and south Jefferson counties. “Students learn to work together and with outside agencies to accomplish a common goal. At RPS, we are committed to the areas we cover and appreciate this opportunity to offer a field medic point of view as students gain this important experience.”

“This simulation is a great example of how Samford’s College of Health Sciences is involved with the community,” said Walker. “Samford not only has resources which could be utilized during a real-world event, but they spend considerable time in preparation.”

Associate Professor Cindy Berry and Pence were the lead developers of the simulation, and employees throughout the College of Health Sciences provided support. “It is essential that our students and the university be prepared for situations such as the one simulated today,” said Berry. “We are grateful to the various departments and community agencies for helping us better equip our students and the university to respond to critical community incidents.”