Nursing students face difficult decisions in annual disaster drill



If you are able to save only one of the following: a baby, a young woman, an old woman or an old man, whom do you pick?

Triage is fighting the initial instinct of saving the most helpless in order to save more people in the limited amount of time a rescuer has before the building collapses. Nursing Professor Vincent Pair said the Disaster Drill tests the students’ ability to assess patients’ injuries, as well as their ability to care for them. Floyd Canup, Captain of the Sheriff’s Department, said, “The Disaster Drill exposes the student to life-like situations, however, in the field there are more civilians and it moves quicker.”

The annual drill is a mock trial, with roughly 200 nursing students, where the juniors act injured and the seniors rescue them from a common disaster. Several other departments at Piedmont College were also involved in the drill. The mass communications department sent out journalists and a video production crew to cover and promote the drill. Piedmont College’s theatre department helped by creating wounds out of makeup, ripping up old clothes for the victims to wear and creating pyrotechnical explosions to make the drill as realistic as possible.

“It took me 45 minutes to get this thing entirely smoked up enough to set off the fire alarm,” said John Spiegel, associate professor of theatre. Spiegel, along with Associate Professor of Theatre Henry Johnson, are in charge of pyrotechnics for the disaster drill.


“This is the first time we’ve done it in a building. Normally it’s out either in the amphitheater or in the amphitheater parking lot or around this building (the Swanson Center),” Spiegel said.

Due to the nature of the drill this year, Spiegel said that set up, clean up and set construction processes were much shorter than they have been in the past.

There were over 100 victims that participated in the disaster drill. Each victim had makeup on various parts of their body to resemble burns or other wounds caused by the fire, and had specific instructions on how to act during the drill.

Lisa Buirch, a junior nursing major at Piedmont College with makeup mimicking a lower leg and foot burn , said acting like a victim was easy for her. “I guess I’m sort of a method actor,” said Buirch. “This is a lot of fun for me. I’m really excited to participate and to help.”

One senior nursing major, Rachel Hill, described the drill as “chaos.”

“I had a lot of patients who seemed to have some neural status issues like levels of consciousness were altered, lots of psych patients; there were quite a few burn victims,” Hill said. “I had a patient who had some blunt force trauma, trampled patients. It was difficult.”

The city of Demorest and Habersham County send almost all available first responders, including the city of Demorest police and fire departments, Habersham County Medical Center and EMS, Habersham County Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office, 911/Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security, Habersham Search and Rescue and the District Two Public Health Administration, according to Piedmont Police Chief Jim Andrews.

“The event has evolved and come a long way. It involves more agencies, more students and more departments,” said Nursing Professor Jamie Johnson-Huff, who has participated in the Disaster Drill for 13 years. “It is good to see them step up and watch how well they interact.”