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Sept. 20, 2015
A tornado struck Redden Village Friday, prompting Northwest Missouri State University students and others from throughout the country to take charge of the unfolding disaster and work together to rescue and treat its victims.
The scenario was fictitious, but that hardly deterred the students, who were participating in Northwest’s third annual Missouri Hope 2015 disaster response field training exercise with community volunteers and local and state emergency responders.
The immersive three-day domestic training exercise, which is required for students studying majors or minors in emergency and disaster management (EDM), happens at Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area (MOERA) and the Mozingo Youth Camp. Volunteers play the roles of disaster victims and spontaneous volunteer community members.
“It’s not something you go to on a Saturday and say, ‘This is how we treat people in tornados.’ It’s not something where you say, ‘Ok, there’s a plane crash. We’re going to train for it Saturday morning and go away Saturday afternoon,’” said Clemson Turregano, a 25-year Army veteran and leadership expert, who attended Missouri Hope this year as a senior mentor. “This is three days of a tornado impacting an area and you have to live in that area for three days, and that makes it a full-immersion simulation, so you are in the simulation the entire time.”
Turregano, the director of global leadership products for the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., worked with Dr. Mark Corson, a professor of geography at Northwest and one of the founding faculty members of its EDM program, to establish Missouri Hope.
“There’s nothing like this out there,” Turregano said of Missouri Hope. “I often tell people I have the privilege of participating in the largest full immersion disaster simulation in the United States. It’s the only one of this type in the United States.”
The tornado caused multiple issues almost simultaneously. There were mass casualties at Redden Village. It damaged a bridge, stranding people across a lake, and they needed to be transported across the waterway to receive medical treatment.
In a mobile medical unit, stretchers streamed in and out as nurses and emergency medical technicians carried out treatment protocols and prepared victims for transport. But the number of patients exceeded the local hospital’s capacity.
The exercise challenges students to overcome fears and hone skills as emergency responders. Students work together through situations involving the incident command system, water treatment, high-angle rescue and disaster medical operations. This year, a nighttime search rescue was added.
“They do get some pretty good technical skills, but that’s not the primary focus,” Corson said. “This is actually about leadership, followership, team-building and individual confidence-building. Many students have told us that this is a life-changing event for them because they rotate through the leadership positions. They say, ‘I’ve never been under this kind of stress. I’ve never had to lead people. I’ve done things I didn’t think I could do and it’s changed my life.’”
Forty-nine students participated in this year’s incarnation of Missouri Hope. Participants included Northwest students as well as students from St. Luke’s College of Health Sciences in Kansas City and Northern Oklahoma College.
Kiersten Woods, a second-year nursing student at Northern Oklahoma, participated in the high-angle rescue Friday afternoon. In the scenario, a man and his son were trapped high on a multi-level structure, and Woods and her team discovered them while surveying the damaged bridge.
The father could not be saved from his injuries, but Woods successfully rescued the boy and lowered him safely to the ground – while distracting him from the trauma surrounding them. The structure was the Alpine Tower at Northwest’s Challenge Course, the victims were dummies and the trauma came in the form of shouting and barked orders from the mouths of role players on the ground, but the intensity was real, Woods said.
“It was an adrenaline-rush,” she said. “It’s great training for situations that are very stressful and you don’t have a lot of time to think about what you’re going to do. You just have to be able to react quickly.”
Matt Parker, a junior EDM major from Camden Point, Mo., worked an incident command post, overseeing operations and delegating responsibilities. He aspires to work in planning and mitigation with a disaster response agency.
“I think the biggest thing I’m learning is confidence because when you’re in a situation like this, you can’t sit there and think, 'Is this the right decision?'” Parker said. “You’ve just got to make a decision and go with it and trust your instincts. Here, you can learn from it.”
Sarah Bickham is a recent graduate of Northwest’s EDM program and participated in Missouri Hope this weekend as a mentor. She is serving with Americorps and intends to pursue a career in local government or public health education.
“It can be very stressful, but very rewarding,” she said. “It throws you into the deep end and then you just kind of have to figure it out. Ultimately, you end up swimming, so it’s confidence-building.”
Missouri Hope is sponsored by Northwest’s EDM program and the Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education. Partner agencies participating in the training included Maryville Public Safety, Nodaway County Emergency Management, Nodaway County Ambulance District, LifeFlight and LifeNet Air Ambulances and the 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion Missouri Army National Guard.
“These are our future in emergency response and emergency management, which is truly a young profession,” Blair Shock, director of emergency management for Clinton County, Mo., said. “I didn’t have this luxury, moving into this profession. These students do, and it’s an outstanding thing that will not only increase the effectiveness of emergency managers. It’s truly growing the profession, growing the professionalism within our profession and increasing not only the abilities of our local, regional and national agencies, but the effectiveness of these students to empower and enable them to perform well when they move onto the professional world.”
Due to an increased need for trained professionals in the crisis response field, Northwest launched its unique EDM program in 2009 as an interdisciplinary minor. The program expanded to be offered as an academic major in 2012. Course instruction is provided by Northwest faculty and staff who have regional and national roles in emergency management. For more information about Northwest’s Emergency and Disaster Management program, click here.
MOERA is a 320-acre parcel of land at the Mozingo Lake Recreation Area, located east of Maryville on Highway 46. MOERA is operated by Northwest’s Department of Health and Human Services and provides a variety of outdoor education and recreation opportunities, including a challenge course, trap shooting and archery, canoes and kayaks, and outdoor research areas.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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