Texas A&M Health Trains Hundreds of Students in Mass Disaster Scenario

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) today held its 14and Annual Disaster Day, a student-led disaster simulation exercise that engages hundreds of students from various health professions programs.

Having health professionals trained in disaster response has become increasingly important. In 2021 alone, the United States experienced 20 natural disasters, from fires to floods. These disasters not only cost the country billions of dollars, but according to NOAA, they also caused at least 688 direct or indirect deaths and hundreds of injuries. Texas A&M Health has prioritized disaster response training for many years.

“Interprofessional disaster response education has become an integral part of our curriculum,” said Christine Kaunas, EdD, MPH, executive director of interprofessional education and research at Texas A&M Health. “Our goal is to ensure that our health profession students are well prepared for any medical situation they may encounter during their careers, and this may include triage in the midst of a hurricane, tornado or other emergency.”

Established by the Texas A&M College of Nursing and now in its 14th year, students in Texas A&M Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health, as well as students in athletic training, psychology, and veterinary medicine and the Corps of Cadets, are participating in the one-day event. Disaster Day has also grown to include state agencies, including the Texas Department of Emergency Management, Texas State Guard, and American Red Cross. The event takes place at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Brayton Fire Training Field and Disaster City, a fictional 52-acre world-class city that serves as a training center for emergency responders.

As a student-run event, more than 60 students from across Texas A&M work on a student planning committee — with guidance from a faculty and staff steering committee — to do everything, from organizing student participation and training to creating the case scenarios that will occur during the drill.

“Disaster Day allows us to work in an interprofessional way,” said Makeda Asamnew, director of student planning for Disaster Day and a third-year pharmacy student. “As students, we typically work in silos, so it’s exciting to work with other health professions students at Texas A&M Health. This gives a better perspective on how healthcare professionals work together in the field.

A new scenario is selected each year and kept secret until the day of the event to give the realism of an unexpected situation. The simulated disaster for today’s event was a forest fire. More than 750 students participated and engaged in triage at the disaster site, patient care at mock field hospitals, and simulation disaster management and supervision at the emergency operations training center of Disaster City. New this year is an evacuation shelter where students participate in mental health care and needs assessments for people in crisis.

During the simulation, athletic training, nursing, and medical students assume patient or provider roles. Students who participate as patients are given make-up, known as casting, to mimic injuries based on the current scenario. At the start of the exercise, patients act out their assigned case while students acting as providers first perform field assessments and then transfer patients to a field hospital for further diagnosis and treatment. Pharmacy students work with providers to determine needed medications.

Due to the unpredictability of disasters, the simulations also include veterinary students to handle animal problems and psychology students to deal with mentally distressed patients. Public health students manage the disaster and assess environmental issues that could affect a larger area beyond the disaster site.

“It’s amazing to see the growth of this event over the years,” said Jon Mogford, PhD, chief operating officer and senior vice president of Texas A&M Health. “Our partnership with organizations such as the Texas Department of Emergency Management has given our students the opportunity to learn from experts and enhance their learning experience. We look forward to continuing to grow this event and continuing to make interprofessional disaster response education a priority for our students.

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