Down in the pit of a quarry, large blocks of rock resemble the wreckage of a collapsed building. In one of several disaster preparation and response educational activities in July, the students in Philadelphia University’s Disaster Medicine and Management met at dusk in Bucks County to participate in a practice rescue situation.
As recent disasters in Japan, Haiti and other countries has shown, highly trained disaster response workers are needed to manage the relief efforts, which often can involve scenarios where lives are at risk. The Disaster Medicine and Management Program teaches students around the country the skills necessary to organize effective responses to natural and terror-related threats. In Bucks County, the students worked with the Bucks County Technical Rescue Team, as well as regional firefighters and EMS squads in a joint operation, practicing the rescue of trapped civilians in a collapsed building.
The workers were forced to adapt to low light as the night progressed in their attempts to find and rescue volunteers and manikins, placed strategically throughout the scattered boulders in the quarry. The operation was one of several exercises organized for the students, who convene in Philadelphia for one week a year in the otherwise online degree program.
Earlier in the week, the students participated in a hospital exercise simulating the release of hazardous materials, surveyed the Wells Fargo Center for potential security flaws and conducted a University-wide closed POD exercise, which is designed to administer vital antibiotics or vaccines in the event of a severe health threat to the campus.
“Preparation and practice are the keys to successful disaster management,” said Steven Parillo, D.O., medical director for the disaster medicine and management program. “DMM students learned many exercise basics in the principles class, and then honed their skills during the weeks leading up to on-campus week. Without exception, the 2011 class expressed positive comments about the value of exercises.”
Throughout the week, several disaster management specialists joined the PhilaU faculty in presenting lectures and educational programs to the gathered students. Officials from the FBI, FEMA and the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security were all on campus as invited speakers.
“The week was a week to grow as a disaster planner,” said student Coleen Byrnes. “It was intense and exhausting, but by far one of the best life time experiences I have participated in. The amount of knowledge I gained, rediscovered and used was amazing.”