By Kara Bounds Socol
The grisly train wreck aftermath will be forever etched in Madison Johnson’s memory.
Johnson ’17, a San Antonio native and recent graduate of the Texas A&M College of Nursing, vividly recalls the screams and moans of victims as they writhed in pain or ran in panicked circles. Some were impaled by metal and glass; others had severe lacerations, amputated limbs and head injuries. The situation sent one passenger into labor and caused a heart attack in another.
Emergency responders had to maintain cool heads during the chaos to prioritize and treat the victims without the tools, supplies and medication readily available in a hospital. “It looked and felt so real,” Johnson later recalled of the Feb. 16 Disaster Day simulation. “It pushed students outside of their comfort zones, but taught them to think quickly on their feet.”
An Ideal Training Ground
Disaster Day was created by the College of Nursing in 2008 with 35 nursing student participants. During its first nine years, the annual event took place in a church gym, where students faced mock scenarios such as an explosion and a tornado.
Disaster Day has gained momentum each year and now serves as a disaster-training exercise for Texas A&M nursing, medical, pharmacy, public health and veterinary medicine students. For this year’s 10th anniversary, organizers left the church gym behind and moved the event to a much more realistic setting: the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Disaster City in College Station.
At Disaster City, the derailed train cars were real, as were the 200 Texas A&M Health Science Center (HSC) student volunteers who, during separate morning and afternoon shifts, posed as injured train passengers while approximately 450 student “emergency responders” tended to them or manned the Emergency Operations Center.