Mississippi University for Women nursing student Susan Arroyo-Hall assesses the simulated injuries of Shonda Maxwell at Propst Park Tuesday morning after a mock tornado that set the scene for the annual Lowndes County disaster preparedness drill. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
Mississippi University for Women nursing student Tatiuana Taylor is carried by first responders from Columbus Air Force Base during the annual Lowndes County disaster preparedness drill held Tuesday at Propst Park. "It really gives us insight on both sides," Taylor said. "It was a good learning experience."
Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
September 19, 2018 10:39:17 AM
A tornado ripped through Propst Park Tuesday morning causing numerous fatalities and injuries.
Though just a drill, local agencies responded to the scene as if the disaster happened in real life. Typically Mississippi University for Women nursing students act as the victims in the annual disaster drill. However, this year senior nursing students helped survey the scene and triage the victims before the responders arrived.
First responders from Baptist Memorial Hospital Ambulance Services, Columbus Police Department, the Lowndes County Sheriff's and Coroner's offices, Columbus Air Force Base, Columbus Fire and Rescue, Mississippi Department of Health and other agencies all participated in the scenario.
Susan Arroyo-Hall, a MUW nursing student, sprung into action when more than 30 victims started calling for help. There were at least 50 "injuries," 30 of those severe, and 15 "fatalities."
Arroyo-Hall said while prepping the injured victims, she felt relieved when she saw the surge of lights from the first responders. She quickly tended to a fellow nursing student, Shonda Maxwell, who screamed she was having chest pains and couldn't breathe.
"You see these people," Arroyo-Hall said motioning to Columbus firefighters. "They are here to help you. Talk to me, calm down and it will be better."
After making sure the victim was OK, Arroyo-Hall alerted a medic that Maxwell could be having a heart attack and needed further medical assistance.
She added she took everything as seriously as she could, so she would be prepared if ever an actual emergency of this magnitude arises.
"We are practicing for real life," Arroyo-Hall said. "Even if it's not a real event at this time, we can pretend, so when this happens we are ready. As a nursing student, we have to be ready and prepared for anything."
Richard Holloway, ambulance supervisor for BMH, said the nursing students who monitored patients helped first responders assist those in need.
"I'm glad that we have an exercise where the nursing students from MUW could be this involved," Holloway said. "We appreciate their participation in initiating triage, along with the fire department, and how good a job they did of managing patients on the scene."
Columbus-Lowndes Emergency Management Services Director Cindy Lawrence said the scenario was designed to help coordinate communication with all of the agencies involved. Each year, a disaster drill is held to identify any issues or shortcomings between the agencies, Lawrence said.
The scenario was this: During the opening day for baseball season at Propst Park, a tornado warning was issued while sirens blared at about 8:15 a.m. Without shelter, numerous people were critically injured or killed when the tornado flew through the park. Until responders arrived, nursing students who were at the ball field assessed injuries and sorted victims into four categories: minor, moderate, severe injuries and deceased.
Students started calling 911 screaming for help once the drill began. More than 60 students participated and injured and lifeless bodies were sprawled across the picnic area and lawn outside the recreation center.
"Help, we are at Propst Park. I don't know what happened but my friend's arm is broken I think," an injured student screamed on the phone. "Please get here. Hurry!"
Less than 10 minutes later, emergency responders were on-scene. CFR responders were helping medics sort the injured victims. Firefighters laid four tarps down, a green one for "walking wounded," yellow for moderately injured, red for severely injured and a black tarp for fatalities.
While first responders medically assisted patients, ambulances took 15 critical patients to BMH. Shortly after the first tornado, a second tornado was predicted to come through the area. First responders and those with minor injuries helped take moderate or severely injured victims inside the Recreation Activity Center to seek shelter. The second tornado dissipated before coming through Lowndes County.
The biggest weakness in years past correlated to communication issues, Lawrence said. Although there was a technical issue from CFR and BMH ambulance services, representatives said communication was still better than previous years.
"I think the coordination with our agencies went well this morning," Lawrence said. "Information flowed from one agency to the other, and I think it went really good. I didn't notice any issues as far as communications. Communication did much better than in the past."
Lawrence said she will meet with all participating agencies to see if any issues arose that need to be addressed. On public safety, Lawrence said preparation is important in case of a weather emergency.
"Any time you have an activity outside, you should always have a plan on what you would do in events of severe weather," Lawrence said.
Assistant Fire Chief Duane Hughes said this drill helped new members of CFR with real-world experience.
"All the CFR personnel (here Tuesday) were new to their position," Hughes said. "What I hope they would gain was some on-the-job training dealing with mass casualty incidents as well as a multi-discipline response. In those regards, they performed extremely well. They were able to perform and execute their mission."
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