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Ref: Mass college practices emergency response drills

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MRC preps for emergency medical drills

By: Ryan Richardson, Collegian Staff

Posted: 4/9/07

This Thursday, the Mullins Center will go from concert venue to disease ward - but it's no cause for panic. The University of Massachusetts Medical Response Corps, with the help of a coalition of local boards of public health, plans to run an emergency drill.

The drill, which coincides with tests of emergency communications throughout Western Massachusetts, simulates an outbreak of meningitis on campus. The MRC - a group of staff, faculty, students and local officials - will set up an emergency dispensing site similar to the distribution of the appropriate meningitis drugs and will also be taped for later presentations and analysis. The drill serves a number of important roles at UMass.

"If we look at the University as a community, then this is emergency preparedness and we're doing that practical work," said Ann Becker, the MRC coordinator and Public Health Nurse at the University Health Services. At the most basic level, the drill helps the MRC learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their emergency plans without having to wait until the last minute when a real crisis comes. The drill will also educate students and help them become involved with emergency preparedness and public health at many different levels.

"A lot of students are stepping up to get involved. They want to be conscious of what happens in their community and take part," Becker said. Students from the School of Nursing, the Student Health Advisory Board as well as ROTC have been involved with many of the planning stages of the drill and will help to administer the logistics from triage to administration.

The MRC is looking for students to volunteer as victims of the outbreak. In a drill, volunteers are given a list of symptoms to act out as they move through the process. Last year there weren't enough victim volunteers to simulate the crowds that might gather during an emergency situation, which is why this year the MRC is trying hard to recruit as many volunteers as possible throughout campus. With a pizza party for the largest group, raffles and pastries provided by Panera Bread in Hadley, it may pay to pretend to be sick for a few hours.

Preparation for the drill will begin at 7 a.m. for the MRC volunteers who will receive some "just-in-time" training to familiarize them with what's going to happen during the course of the scenario and just what their role will be in the drill. As the victim volunteers begin to arrive at 9 a.m., the MRC volunteers will prepare pretend vaccinations to protect them from exposure while they're working at the emergency dispensing site. The drill continues until noon, and many victim volunteers will be asked to go through the symptoms multiple times in order to give the MRC volunteers a more realistic sense of what might happen during a real emergency, where more than a few hundred students would show up. After the drill volunteers will be asked to provide feedback about their experience during debriefing sessions. A similar drill is scheduled to be conducted simultaneously at Amherst College, although on a much smaller scale.

"It will be a very interesting experience for the volunteers," said Sal DiNardi, professor emeritus of Environmental Health and Science. "People don't have an appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes at a drill." DiNardi felt that after participating in the drill, which will take place on April 12, volunteers would "appreciate the complexity of an event like this," and all of the planning and preparation that was involved in the process to make sure that, in the event of an actual emergency, officials aren't simply reacting to the situation.

While volunteers are encouraged to come at any time during the drill, and stay for as long as their class schedule will permit, the MRC strongly encourages registering ahead of time and staying for the entire event to take full advantage of the educational materials and snacks. Students can also receive credit for participating in the event for either community service or CEUs for EMTs.

To sign up, or for more information about volunteering, e-mail before April 9.

Ryan Richardson can be reached at
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