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FYE classes prepare for disaster

On September 23, 2013

On Sept. 30 an EF3 tornado will strike the heart of the A-State campus. The devastation will envelop Heritage Plaza outside the Student Union from 1-4 p.m. Monday afternoon.

Welcome to the 2013 First Year Experience Disaster Simulation event.

The Disaster Simulation aims to involve all first-year making connections students in major-specific areas of the simulation, allowing students the opportunity to experience how their chosen career will function in the real world.

“We just want to make the first year be more relevant, get them to do something hands-on,” Jill Simons, director of the university college, said.

Professional first responders and emergency management personnel will be on hand and involved throughout the simulation, and a visit from the Jonesboro Air Evac helicopter is expected, weather permitting.

The simulation will feature three main sections: mass triage, the emergency operations center, and decontamination, according to Brett Cox, assistant professor for the disaster preparedness and emergency management.

“In each setting, students will get the opportunity to work alongside actual first responders,” Cox said.

Victims and responders will initially be brought to mass triage, where participants will assess the damage of the situation and injuries of the victims.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will function as the command center in controlling responsive logistics such as infrastructure damage, financial concerns or Internet outages—concerns relative to real-life crises.

Decontamination will be the final station in the event, where participants exiting the simulation will be fitted with Hazmat suits and detoxified before leaving the scene.

Although the simulation is scheduled to last three hours, it will be repeated in three one-hour segments to allow students with schedule conflicts to participate fully in the event.

Campus involvement is centered around the FYE Making Connections courses, according to Simons.

“The event itself is a chance for all (first-year) students to act in a role related to their major,” Simons said.

Cox, who helped write the scenario for the simulation, said, “Whatever the students are going into—whether that is nursing, engineering, biology, chemistry or media—there is a spot in that profession that involves disaster preparedness.”

As part of the simulation, participants are being assigned roles based on their declared majors. Theater students will play the roles of tornado victims, nursing and health students will act as first responders, engineering students will assess potential structural damage throughout the university, communication students will handle press releases and business majors will work with the EOC.

“We’re hoping that it’s very interdisciplinary, and that all the majors that are in Making Connections will get a chance to see or be a part of the program,” Simons said.

Cloyis Daughhetee, instructor for the department of criminology and sociology, said her Making Connections class is going to work in crowd control. “As future police officers, that will be part of their role,” Daughhetee said. “They are going to be learning how to ensure safety of onlookers. Tragedy seems to draw people.”

Daughhetee would like for her students to shadow officers from the University Police Department, and is hoping some students will choose to participate as onlookers as well.

Hans Hacker, associate professor for the department of political science, said his students will be working in the Emergency Operations Center.

“These will be students that will work with FEMA and Homeland Security professionals who come in to help run the simulation,” Hacker said. “We’ve got somebody who is shadowing the incident commander, the public information officer, liaison officer, logistic section chief and operations section chief. And then we had one student who really wanted to be a victim.”

Even students whose majors do not pertain directly to disaster response have the opportunity to become involved. Music majors will host a “benefit concert” on the lawn three days after the
simulation, and art majors have been creating disaster-inspired art pieces.

Susan Whiteland, assistant professor in the art department, said her students have been creating disaster-themed artwork for display at the simulation.

“It’s teaching them to think in broader terms of what disaster entails,” Whiteland said.

Whiteland also plans on making sign-up sheets available to students who wish to take a more active role.

Freshmen with undeclared majors are also being encouraged to participate.

“We feel like undecided students could do any role, because it’s more exposure,” Simons said. “We’re going to make sure they get in and do something that exposes them to one area of it.”

The idea for the Disaster Simulation event was brought about in part by this year’s freshman class common reader, Zeitoun.

Zeitoun is the story of a Syrian immigrant who decided to stay in New Orleans rather than evacuate when the 2005 Hurricane Katrina smashed into the toe of Louisiana.

“There is lots of (discussion) that could come out of that and the main thing was disaster,” Simons said.

In addition to learning the roles of their major fields in disaster situations, the simulation will encourage freshmen to interact in a meaningful way and prepare them for disaster reaction as a whole.

“I think it brings a sense of common purpose to all these different academic disciplines,”

Hacker said. “I think part of the simulation is to build community and understand that we have responsibilities to each other.”

The hands-on disaster preparation skills students can learn through involvement makes the simulation well worth the time investment.

“Most people are not prepared for disaster,” Daughhetee said.

Cox said a major goal of the simulation is to encourage personal preparedness in the event of a disaster.

“Disasters can strike any time,” Cox said.

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