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First-Year Freshmen in A-State ‘Making Connections’ Classes Will Join Forces to Conduct Tornado Disaster Drill

09/25/2013

JONESBORO – Students often embark on class projects, and sometimes the project ends in unfortunate disaster.

The first-year freshmen at Arkansas State University actually want their class project to be a disaster, at least in the educational sense.

When moms and dads of the 1,600 or so first-time freshmen hear Monday that a tornado struck the A‑State campus, they should take comfort in two ways:

No one was actually hurt, because it was a drill, and the students learned a lot.

About 12:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, the wail of tornado sirens will pierce the air around the university campus.  Under a scenario written by the planning team, an EF3 tornado will rip through the campus 14 minutes later, destroying buildings and injuring hundreds.

The team includes faculty in the disaster preparedness and emergency management program of the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) and those who teach “Making Connections,” a three-hour course that helps A-State freshmen get off to a good start.

Many universities involve students in emergency drills; however, the inclusion of an entire freshman class is somewhat unique.

“The main goal of the whole exercise is to expose students to the roles of various professions,” explained Dr. Jill Simons, dean of University College, which administers the first-year experience program.  “The disaster is simply a platform to tie in many disciplines.”

Some freshmen will be made up with simulated injuries such as lacerations and broken bones.  A mass casualty triage system will be set up on the east side of the Carl R. Reng Student Union.

Complicating the scenario will be some victims’ exposure to chemicals from broken vials in the Laboratory Sciences Center and from a ruptured, overturned rail tanker car.

Both the student victims of the spills and the student responders will have to be decontaminated, just as they would in an actual disaster.

Other first-year students will fill various roles in an emergency operations center, such as incident commander, planning section chief, and logistics section chief, all under the guidance of faculty.

A-State’s disaster response plan is based on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Homeland Security procedures.

While the freshmen will be the primary drill participants, all A-State students are encouraged to observe from bleachers positioned around the disaster response area.

As part of the exercise, students are encouraged to comment and post photos on social media using the hashtag #AStateDrill, and to call their friends and relatives as a test of the cellular telephone networks.

To further enhance the educational component, several emergency and medical professionals from the city and county will help teach participants about their roles.

“Running this drill provides evidence of the university’s commitment to public safety by developing partnerships that will help prepare the university personnel to respond to any emergency,” added Dr. Deborah Persell, director of CNHP’s disaster preparedness and emergency management program.

The number of participating students is sufficiently large that the disaster scenario will be run three times.

In addition to typical drill activities, students also will contribute in other ways.

Students in Music Making Connections class taught by Dr. Don Bowyer, dean of the College of Fine Arts, noted that every disaster is followed by events to assist victims.  Bowyer’s class will host a “benefit concert” following the drill.

Students in Rhonda Curbo’s Theatre Making Connections class are raising money for University of Colorado students who just experienced an actual disaster, flooding that caused extensive damage.

Dr. Susan Whiteland’s Art Making Connections class is sponsoring an art gallery to display disaster-related artwork in the Union.

In the event that actual weather conditions threaten the area, the drill will be cancelled to avoid any confusion.

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