Drill offers unique lessons for students

Clay County Emergency Management hosted the mock disaster at the old battery plant on Church Hill Road to look at everything from fire and police response to emergency communications and hospital reaction
By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

A mock explosion at a non-existent air rifle plant gives some West Point teenagers a unique look at disaster response and helped real responders improve what they do.

Clay County Emergency Management hosted the mock disaster at the old battery plant on Church Hill Road to look at everything from fire and police response to emergency communications and hospital reaction.

Even area schools and nursing homes got a chance to to test their procedures with an 'alert' of possible hazardous chemicals in the air.

The scenario involved an "explosion" at the air rifle plant. Eight "workers," West Point High students enrolled in a unique disaster preparedness class, were injured and the building filled with smoke and carbon dioxide. A smoke machine helped make the scene realistic.

The first police officer on the scene is "overcome" by fumes and a second officer barely makes it out.

A "worker" suffers "fatal" injuries.

One employee did manage to escape and report the incident. Once the one police officer managed to "crawl" out, he was able to provide some sketchy details.

State emergency management supervisors, along with directors from Monroe, Lowndes and other counties, monitored how well E-911 dispatchers gathered and shared information, fire and medical response, search and rescue procedures inside the dark, smoke-filled building, scene control and every other facet of the drill.

The observers even watched to see how North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point's ER handled the influx of eight "injured" workers, who were carried to the hospital in the county's new "AmbuBus," a school bus converted into an emergency triage unit to handle large numbers of patients.

Coroner Alvin Carter had to pronounce the one victim "dead." Ironically, his son, was the "victim." To follow through the real world experience, he asked if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had been notified to begin an inquiry since it involved an industrial accident.

The observers, along with Clay County EMA Director Kerrie Gentry-Blissard, Fire Chief Ken Wilbourne, E-911 Director Treva Hodge and others, went over their observations.

As is often the case, communication and on-scene coordination were some of the lessons learned

While these regular drills are learning tools for emergency responders, this drill was the final test for the eight high school students in the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative, a 14-week program run through the MSU Extension Service to give high school students insight into disaster response.

It's part of the career tech program at West Point High.

During the 14 weeks, the students learn emergency response both in the classroom and in the field. Their training includes becoming CPR and defibrillator certified. They had to put together emergency response kits and communication plans for their's and seven other families.

It's the second year Extension Agent Natalie Ray has coordinated the program through the school's allied health classes.

"It pretty much follows their curriculum. It's pretty impressive the things they are trained to do," Ray said as she watched her students play the roles of "injured" workers during Monday's drill.

"Triage on a disaster scene is totally different than in the classroom. They are getting an understanding of that. And the ability to think on their feet in what is not a normal scenario. Seeing what they've learned in the real world helps pull it all together for them," she continued.

"I didn't know there was so much to emergency rescue. If we have a disaster, I'm ready to help," said WPHS senior Synethia Mathews, who wants to be an optometrist.

Her classmate, Aynsleigh Cade, agreed.

"It's a lot different than the perception, it's not all blood and guts, you've got to be compassionate," said Cade, who wants to be a nurse.

The disaster kits were a learning experience, not just for her but also for the families who got them.

"People don't think about it, they don't think about the things they need until it happens, and then it's too late," she stated.

The eight students in the program graduate Friday.

As part of their graduation, they receive backpacks filled with emergency response items. They are supposed to carry the backpacks in their car "just in case."

"Yes," Cade and Mathews both replied simply when asked if they planned to keep them handy. "That's what we've learned."

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