Tyler Eudy is the tornado’s first fatality. His body lies on the university soccer field in front of the stands, marked by a black tag.
Amy Altman quickly turns her attention to David Craig, who appears to have an injured shoulder. Craig lies next to Eudy, his close friend.
As Altman asks Craig simple questions to assess his state, he suddenly notices that Eudy is not moving. “Tyler! Tyler! Wake up, Tyler!” Craig screams, breaking free from Altman to drag himself over to Eudy and pound on his buddy’s chest.
“You do what you can do,” Altman says, taking in the scene. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do.”
Fortunately, this is a drill. But this mass casualty triage exercise on the morning of April 17 is one Eudy, Craig, Altman and the 85 other student nurses in the Class of 2013 won’t soon forget.
Susan Hannah and Julie Kordsmeier, both professors of nursing, have planned the exercise, a first for UNCG’s School of Nursing, for months. They have brought in campus emergency management, campus police, Cone Health and Guilford County EMS to make the drill as realistic as possible.
The scenario? A tornado has torn through the Friendly Avenue corridor. High school students and their families on a campus tour have been caught without warning in the soccer stadium
“This is for your benefit,” Hannah tells the “victims” before she heads for the gym to call in the “responders.” “I think the events in recent days make this very pertinent.”
The tragic Boston Marathon bombings are very much on everyone’s mind.
“I think this is really going to show continuity of care,” says Zach Martin, one of the 58 seniors gruesomely made up as “victims” for the exercise. A tongue depressor juts out of a flesh-colored chest plate, representing a large nail that has caused his lung to collapse. “We’re so focused on one patient when they come to the hospital. We rarely see what happens between the site of the accident and when they arrive at the hospital.”
The 30 students designated as “responders” are sheltered in the Student Recreation Center with no details about the scene they will soon encounter. They have not seen their classmates in the horrific moulage makeup.
They will have access only to rudimentary sports medicine supplies that might normally be available at the gym, Hannah tells them. And they will not get advice or help from nursing faculty, who are there only to observe.
“We want you to learn from this,” Kordsmeier tells the responders. “This can happen. I know that in your career at some point in time you will be responding to victims.”
With that, the responders make their way to the soccer field, where carnage and chaos await. Victims are spread across the huge field, bleeding, screaming, crying, pleading.
“Help my friend! She’s dying!” “My son’s leg is broken!” “I can’t feel my legs!”
Cassie McIntosh lies on the field near Eudy and Craig with a glass shard lodged in her thigh. She, too, is asking about Eudy, but responders redirect her attention.
They move her on a sheet, dragging her to a treatment area. “We’re moving you, girlfriend. We’re moving you!” the responders tell a screaming McIntosh, who is bleeding, in pain and anxious to know what’s going on.
Jessica Good is team leader and incident commander, tasked with supplying crucial information about deaths and injuries to police and EMS and taking stock of what supplies are needed. “The hardest part is finding out what everyone needs,” she says as she hurries around the field.
Good updates Cpl. A.E. Joyner of the campus police department, giving him a concise and accurate overview of the situation. His only advice to her: Stay put at a post.
“When you’re in charge, information comes to you,” he says. “You don’t go looking for information.”
Kordsmeier is proud of the students’ resourcefulness. They turn tabletops and sheets into makeshift stretchers and use ACE bandages as tourniquets. Within 45 minutes, all survivors have been treated and moved to the gates, ready for EMS trucks to pull in and transport them.
“They’re learning, and they’re making adjustments as they go along,” Kordsmeier says. “They’re developing team leaders and they’re staying calm.”
Jason Marshburn, who heads UNCG’s Office of Emergency Management, says the exercise is useful and productive for students, professors and emergency responders.
“It’s helpful for us to know we have these resources on campus,” he tells the students at a post-drill debriefing, “and to see how you guys reacted.”
Nursing professor Angela Newman suggests saving time and energy by calling out to victims, asking them to move toward the treatment area. This helps first responders sort out the less severely injured, ambulatory patients from those who have life-threatening injuries.
Jayne Lutz, also one of the nurse faculty, adds an additional bit of advice to help cut through the chaos. “Look around,” she says. “Who’s quiet? They may need help more than those who are screaming.”
Story by Michelle Hines
Photography by Wesley Brown