DEALING WITH DISASTER: Simulated Chemical Explosion Sends Nursing Students Scrambling



News Editor

Shards of glass littered the ground; smoke billowed from an overturned tank; the screams of over 75 victims echoed across campus. 

Luckily, this was all a part of Piedmont’s annual disaster drill training for senior nursing students. 

This year’s drill simulated a chemistry lab experiment gone wrong.  According to Linda Scott, dean of the School of Nursing, a settling tank burst, sending sulfuric acid and unknown chemicals into the air. Scott phoned in the call around 10 a.m. The nursing students and Habersham County emergency personnel responded shortly after. 

The chemicals involved prompted a hazardous materials scenario. The Habersham County Emergency Management Service Haz-Mat team was on the scene.  

Fifty-six senior nursing students responded to the victims, played by 77 junior nursing students. 

“It gives them that experience of a completely chaotic situation, and they have to try to respond in an appropriate way,” said Scott. “It’s a great critical thinking exercise for them because this is not textbook; it can actually happen.” 

Senior nursing student Casi Best was a part of the team of nurses that transported victims away from the scene. 

“Initially being placed in the disaster circumstance was shocking, but then [I] just [took] a step back, a deep breath, and [remembered] this is what we are trained to do,” said Best.

“The drill was a wonderful experience that will be beneficial as we all begin our careers. It allowed us to see how crucial teamwork and communication are in such a situation.”

“Overall I think the drill went very well,” said Scott. “It ran a little longer but we had to stop because we had a real patient.”  

An actual medical emergency occurred during the drill. One of the senior nursing students was transported from the scene by ambulance.

“She had an asthma attack,” said Scott. “It has happened once before during a drill.” 

The annual drill is also a training exercise for county emergency personnel. This year the nursing program teamed up with Habersham County E911,  Habersham County Fire Department, Demorest Fire Department, Demorest Police, EMS Haz-Mat team and the Habersham County Sheriff’s Department. 

Rob Stein, a firefighter from Habersham County Fire Department, assisted with the Haz-Mat tent. 

“We can go over it in a class all day long, but to actually see it, touch it, set the tent up, pull the people in, triage them and hand them off — that’s what we need to see,” said Stein.

Piedmont is one of the only schools in Georgia that offers this type of training for nursing students.