Disaster Med & Management students apply critical skills during disaster drill

Graduate students in Philadelphia University’s master’s level Disaster Medicine and Management (DMM) program had an extraordinary opportunity to apply their classroom learning to a real-world situation during the University’s July 16 disaster drill led by DMM Program Director Jean Will, Ed.D., and Associate Professor John Lewis.

With mock gunshots heard in the Ravenhill Mansion around 2:45 p.m. and a staged call from campus security to 911, the University’s drill, which took nearly 18 months to plan, got underway.  The Ravenhill campus was filled with nearly 500 people involved in the exercise, which included a mock hostage situation and a variety of simulated threats.  The drill, which lasted almost five hours, ended with the SWAT forces storming the building to gain access and release the remaining hostages.

While the drill was primarily designed as a hands-on educational experience for students in the Disaster Medicine and Management program, it also provided a learning opportunity for University officials, police and fire department members, Homeland Security, FEMA and other agencies who participated in the exercise.

Matt Baker, dean of the School of Science and Health at Philadelphia University, explained that the Disaster Medicine and Management master’s program is designed to “prepare an educated workforce to fill management level jobs.” “This drill is part of that education for students to be part of a training team and identify lessons to learn and grow in their careers,” he added.

“We’re proud to have been a part of this effort with Philadelphia University,” said Sergeant Anthony Buchanico of the Philadelphia Police Counter Terror Operations at a briefing prior to the drill. “This is the largest exercise of this kind in our area.  It’s a great opportunity for students in the program to learn what can happen during a disaster of this kind.”

Students in the Disaster Medicine and Management program were paired with experienced police and rescue officials to learn first-hand the process of working at a disaster site, such as the staged hostage-taking scenario enacted on campus. 

“An important part of our program is to plan, exercise and prepare for real disasters to happen,” said Robert Buzzard, R.N., EMT-P, a student in the Disaster Medicine and Management program.  “This drill gives students the practical experience we need” to deal with such disasters in the future, said Buzzard, who is president of the University’s student chapter of the International Association of Emergency Managers

Student Beth Schweriner agreed the drill provided an extraordinary learning opportunity.  “For a person who has never been involved in a drill like this, there is an enormous amount of coordination and collaboration that takes place,” she said.  “It is important to go through disaster exercises in order to reassess and evaluate our tactics.”

University faculty, staff and students also were involved in the exercise.  Physician Assistant and Occupational Therapy students volunteered to play the role of hostages, which was staged with fake blood, gunshot wounds and other injuries. “We learned about triage and how to access patients in emergency situations,” said Katie Patnaude, a student in Physician Assistant Studies who played one of the victims.

“The Disaster Medicine and Management exercise is an example of the manner in which Philadelphia University approaches learning – dynamic, cross disciplinary and real world…what a 21st university learning experience should be,” explained President Stephen Spinelli Jr., Ph.D.  “Interdisciplinary learning and real-world programs are intimate to creating industry leaders. This kind of academic experience benefits our students and the communities they serve.” 

The disaster drill was preceded by a lecture by terrorism expert John Giduck, who explained the importance of planning and preparing for a terrorist situation.  Giduck, author of “Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy With Lessons for America’s Schools,” stressed the need for police, medics and disaster professionals – as well as campus officials – to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.  “No team trains to battle the weakest opponents,” he said. “You have to train and be prepared to bring your skill sets together.”

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