Mock disaster strikes Mac to test responders’ skills
A chemical spill in the greenhouse. A car accident in the parking garage.
A deadly virus, spreading across campus.
It was pure chaos — of the simulated variety — at McMaster University this weekend, the host school of this year’s National Conference for Campus Emergency Responders (NCCER).
Response teams from universities across Ontario and Quebec came together for a series of lectures before being put through a series of dramatized disaster scenarios to test their readiness for a true emergency.
This year’s theme was The Awakening, based on a crisis in a fictional lab at the university.
In a variety of “28 Days Later”-esque scenarios, responders were put to the task of tackling the fallout of a viral outbreak sweeping the campus — one that ended in a mass casualty situation in the atrium on Monday.
“The theme was chosen on account of all of the various epidemic scares we have had in the last decade,” organizer Michael Romaniuk explained — Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, etc.
And while they were delivered with a sci-fi twist, each scenario involved issues that the campus responders could face in real life. Things like soft tissue injuries and lacerations. Broken bones. Emergency births. Psychiatric issues.
“How did I do?” Connor Chambers, 21, asked Sunday morning, lying on the floor of the campus greenhouse. To his right was a puddle of liquid and an overturned hazardous materials bucket — indicators of a chemical spill.
Chambers is part of the emergency response team at the University of Guelph. But on Sunday he volunteered as an actor. One by one, each competing team took turns rushing to the scene to assess Chambers’s (fake) injuries.
Behind them, Ben St. Peters, another Guelph responder, took notes. He was one of the judges assessing each response team, and found it interesting to note the different approaches each team took. Some were mechanical — quick and effective. Others took more time to console or comfort the patient.
“It’s just as informative being on the patient side, seeing how people treat you,” Reidun Gazapick, a member of McMaster’s emergency first response team, noted.
Roughly 30 undergraduate students make up McMaster’s emergency first response team. They rotate through a 24-hour on call schedule and travel to calls by bicycle before paramedics arrive.
The conference also included a series of lectures from emergency responders, including nurses and police and paramedics.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about the field of emergency medicine outside the scope of being a first responder,” Romaniuk says.
“It keeps us sharp. It keeps us on the ball.”
University of Ottawa emergency response team members respond to a mock poison spill in Mac greenhouse.
See video of how responders did with car crash at thespec.com