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Oct. 15, 2017
Maryville Daily Forum: Human touch at the heart of disaster exercise
A LifeFlight helicopter rumbled over Northwest Missouri State University’s Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area (MOERA) Friday afternoon while volunteers on the ground tended to a collection of injured people and searched buildings and overturned vehicles for others.
The scene was part of Northwest’s fifth annual Missouri Hope Disaster Response Field Training Exercise, which began Friday and continued through Sunday at MOERA.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Eric Petersen, a Northwest junior human services and emergency disaster management major from Ventura, California, said. “They’re not giving us much information (about the scenario), so we’re figuring it out on the spot and applying what we’ve been learning. I love studying it, but actually doing it feels right.”
The full immersion field training exercise, based on a domestic disaster scenario, is required for Northwest students studying majors or minors in emergency disaster management (EDM).
Within the scenario, a severe weather system produced tornadic weather that impacted multiple northwest Missouri towns. The state emergency management agency confirmed severe damage to homes, blocked roadways and debris and power outages. As many as 1,000 of individuals were in need of medical attention.
During the simulated response, students work together with teams in mass casualty situations, high-angle rescues and water rescue operations while the exercise challenges them to overcome fears and hone skills as emergency responders.
This year’s exercise drew 56 students and professionals from throughout the country who tested their skills as first responders, and 250 volunteers participated as role players in the disaster scenario. Another 80 people worked as staff members, facilitating and handling logistics for the exercise.
Bonnie Butler, a Northwest senior emergency disaster management major from Omaha, Nebraska, worked the exercise – her eighth such training simulation – as a staff member. Northwest’s Missouri Hope exercise is one of three in the nation and the only one focused on a natural disaster; Northwest students also participate in Atlantic Hope and New York Hope, which focus on humanitarian responses.
“Each and every time I go through one of these Hope experiences, it’s always a new experience for me, and I always grow and learn more,” Butler said. “It’s very important because this is the closest thing we get to real-life scenarios, and we have to constantly prepare ourselves and be ready when we’re called to action.”
Butler, who is pursuing work with the Peace Corps after completing her degree at Northwest, says participating in the training exercises has helped her be more assertive in her work. Now as a mentor, she enjoys helping participants stay focused on the positive aspects of their work and building their confidence.
“I like to just stand back and help them get their brains going and try to figure out the next thing to do,” she said. “I like to just watch how they start and how they grow into more confident, capable individuals.”
She added, “On the last day of my first training simulation, they put me in charge, and I just went for it. It just helped me be super confident. Now, I’m not really afraid of anything. Going through all of these training simulations, I feel like I can pretty much handle whatever life throws at me.”
Citing recent hurricanes and wildfires impacting the United States, participating students said they believe the skills they are developing are needed now more than ever. Northwest’s EDM program weaves coursework with hands-on, full immersion experiences like Missouri Hope to ensure they gain an understanding of the emergency disaster field.
“If we can build that awareness while they’re here as a student through things like this simulation and exercises, that is the best thing for them,” John Carr, the executive director of Missouri Hope and an EDM instructor at Northwest, said. “That is the best way that we can prepare them for a job. They can get sit in the interview and say, ‘Well, if this is what you expect of me, I already had an opportunity to do that during Missouri Hope, during New York Hope, during our CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program. They’re able to say, ‘I have the ability to do this and I know I can do it.”
At Missouri Hope, participants practiced fire suppression, search and rescue, triage, medical treatment and transport, overwater rescues, high-angle rescues, and the management of an emergency operations center.
In a new component of the disaster exercise this fall, the 7th Civil Support Team of the Missouri National Guard deployed from Jefferson City, Missouri, and joined local firefighters at Northwest’s Dean L. Hubbard Center for Innovation for a simulated hazardous material incident.
Carr said the addition of the hazardous material incident provided another opportunity for emergency response agencies to collaborate and build partnerships.
“People recognize this is a great opportunity to develop relationships between these agencies because one of the biggest problems we have with a disaster response, or any of these critical incidents, is that we don’t have those relationships built before we need them,” Carr said. “It makes things much more efficient and more effective. It’s going to help people in our community and make sure they get the treatment they need.”
Northwest’s Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education sponsors Missouri Hope each fall. Partner agencies include Maryville Public Safety, Nodaway and Buchanan County Emergency Management, Nodaway County Ambulance District, LifeFlight and LifeNet Air Ambulances, SEMA Region H Marine Hazmat Team, the 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion Missouri Army National Guard and the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri National Guard.
Participation in the hands-on disaster response training is available to all Northwest students, regardless of major or minor. Students do not need to receive academic credit to participate, but credit may be earned by any student who desires it.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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