Mock disaster tests students

An earthquake in Nepal was the scenario Burman University students faced in a disaster exercise

LACOMBE — Central Alberta’s weather played its part as Burman University students practised responding to a high-altitude earthquake in Nepal.

Student volunteers huddled under blankets in a howling wind as they gamely played injured victims for the 2 1/2-hour exercise on Tuesday morning.

Burman University associate professor Paul Lehman said the exercise was part of his international advanced wilderness first aid course.

The disaster scenario that confronted students was a school collapse at altitude in Nepal. Rescuers, who unexpectedly came across the scene, had to work as a team to triage victims and move them to safety.

“They had to find the victims and account for as many as they could and then decide which ones they should treat first and transport them to a safe location,” said Lehman, who is chair of the university’s Outward Pursuits program.

Nine of his students were testing their skills with the help of 50 volunteer students and teachers from College Heights Christian School. The Grade 7 to 9 students were happy to participate because all had taken first aid in the past, he said.

It wasn’t an easy gig on Tuesday for any of the participants.

Organizing quickly to ensure that all victims were found, treated and moved was the first task facing the students.

Each victim wore a tag with their vital signs, but they were not in obvious sight so rescuers had to examine them to find the information under layers of clothing.

On a day like Tuesday, technical challenges also reared as radios went dead and batteries went flat in the cold, leaving rescuers struggling to keep track of each other.

Lehman kept the challenges coming. Victims were not all from Nepal. Some where hikers and language barriers abounded.

“Some of them may have already been suffering from altitude sickness because they were high enough to have that if they were not acclimated properly,” he said.

Third-year International Health and Wilderness student Allison Gallant said the scenario provided a sense of how big a disaster feels to those trying to help “and how little it makes you feel.”

Gallant, who is from Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia, said she finished the morning with extra confidence.

A logical person at heart, the exercise reinforced in her mind how to respond to an emergency step-by-step, said Gallant.

“Now I have something to reference if I’m ever in a situation like that.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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