By Denise DuBois
It’s 1:30 p.m. on July 10 and it’s hot outside. The heat index is 105 degrees and a local hospital has boilers running a cooling system. The boilers are maxed out and stressed. There’s a spark. It ignites leaves and paper in the boiler room that hasn’t been cleaned up. Stored pallets catch fire, too, but the hospital’s fire alarm isn’t going off. An employee smells smoke and finally discovers the fire and calls 911. Another employee pulls the fire alarm. Evacuation plans are implemented and the fire department arrives in four and a half minutes. The fire has destroyed much of the hospital contents. Engineers expect it will take nine months to a year to make the building habitable again.
This isn’t real life, but it’s a scenario that Chattahoochee Valley Community College nursing and medical assisting students had to participate in last week during a Tabletop Disaster Drill.
The goal of the exercise was to recreate disruption and get students talking about critical notifications and collaboration required to address the disaster.
“There is no better way to emphasize the skills students need than by utilizing teaching and learning strategies that actively immerse them into scenarios to adequately prepare them how to respond, not if but when an actual disaster occurs,” said Shelly Holt, CVCC’s Medical Assisting Program Director.
The students transitioned in 10-minute increments to eight tables where a separate topic from the event was discussed. Topics included: handling media, unaccounted for patients, an inaccessible hospital, dealing with patient family members, operating on an alternate site, discussing the priorities, and evacuating the ICU, pediatric, and psychiatric units. Facilitators at each table asked questions and students were able to discuss gray areas that may arise from the scenario.
“I believe it was the infamous Benjamin Franklin that said it best, ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’ It’s imperative as healthcare educators that we prepare students for real world life experiences. This will lead students to a greater level of preparedness,” Holt said.
Drills like this take place each year within the medical program. In 2017, students participated in an active shooter drill. Last year, they had to deal with a variety of disaster scenarios and instructors facilitated sessions on how to respond and treat victims.