State College

Mock disaster drill puts nursing students to the test

State College High School student Sydnie Simin is loaded by EMS onto a gurney during a mock disaster drill at Medlar Field on Tuesday.
State College High School student Sydnie Simin is loaded by EMS onto a gurney during a mock disaster drill at Medlar Field on Tuesday. CDT photos

There was chaos at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Calls for help could be heard around the ballpark after a school bus collided with a CATA bus in the parking lot.

Penn State nursing student Jane Witt said at least one passenger was dead at the scene.

She also said three other passengers trapped in a blue Penn State school bus suffered severe injuries and needed immediate medical attention, and one had a moderate injury.

But it wasn’t a real accident.

The College of Nursing at Penn State teamed with State College Area School District, Mount Nittany Medical Center and numerous public safety agencies to create a mock disaster drill.

The goal was to generate a synopsis that gave 72 nursing students the chance to react, serve and work in a real-world situation, nursing instructor Maureen Jones said.

“We want to run this scenario as close to real life as possible,” Jones said. “How are they going to work with each other, with patients and with EMS? This is going to give them that experience.”

It was also a way for students to get a taste of the different kinds of nursing focuses.

“This is one of our biggest learning lessons,” Witt, a junior, said. “We’re getting the chance to work in a scene with multiple facets that show us ER or trauma nursing situations and act based on what we learned in the classroom. It’s giving us that room to learn from a catastrophe like you see on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ but in a safe environment. It’s a total collaborative effort among everyone.”

State College Area High School health professions teacher Maryanne Neal said Jones reached out to the district at the end of last year asking for help with the project.

“It’s a good learning tool for them and our students who participate and want to pursue a career in the health profession,” Neal said. “It was a great idea, because although we don’t have mass casualties here, it’s not unlikely. We live in an area with heavy traffic congestion near the stadiums on game day.”

A scenario was drafted in which a school bus full of kids was hit by a CATA bus carrying adults.

At 11:23 a.m., EMS responders from State College, Bellefonte, Penn State, Pleasant Gap and Port Matilda were dispatched to the scene, along with Centre LifeLink and Life Flight.

Student nurses, each with a different responsibility, tended to 65 State High students from the health professions department who acted as victims.

Some were even transported to the hospital by ambulance and helicopter, where a group of nurses met them at the hospital.

After two hours of moulage casting to depict injuries, students were assigned acting assignments. Some were dead at the scene, others had major injuries and others were asked to act disoriented.

State High senior Caleb Walls lay motionless in the parking lot next to a CATA bus. With shrapnel in his chest, medical personnel tended to him.

Fellow senior Matt Harpster, who was covered in blood, wandered the parking lot frantically looking for a friend and distracting nurses from their duties.

“It’s the kind of things you could see at a real-life scene,” Witt said. “In something like this this, as a nurse, you need to be a good example. If you freak out, they’re going to freak out. You have to react to all sorts of situations.”

Through the year, Penn State simulation lab assistant Kristal Hockenberry created small-scale simulations to prepare nursing students for larger-scale scenarios.

“Everything we’re doing and learning is getting us prepared for the next step,” Witt said. “Being a nurse is nothing we take lightly and are a big part of emergency situations.”

Witt said she hopes to focus on operating-room nursing.

Jones said this was the first year her class participated in a mock disaster drill. She hopes to continue it in the future.

“It’s been nothing but a pleasure to work with other community resources,” Jones said. “It’s the best resource we have to get our students prepared for the real world.”