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Oct. 6, 2018
Chaos met International Humanitarian Action volunteers when they arrived on a hill in southern Atlantica about 8:30 Saturday morning. An improvised explosive device had just been detonated while the region was feeling the aftershocks of a recent earthquake and still dealing with the aftermath of a civil war that ripped the country apart. As a steady rain fell on the site, dozens of injured people screamed, and the country’s military forces had arrived, putting everyone on edge.
All of the details were fictional, but the scenario was very real as Northwest Missouri State University hosted its sixth annual emergency response field training exercise. The Missouri Hope-Atlantica exercise, sponsored by the Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education (CHSE), began Thursday evening at the Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area (MOERA) and the Mozingo Youth Camp and was continuing through Sunday. It is an intensive four-day international relief training exercise that is open to all students but required for Northwest students studying majors or minors in emergency disaster management (EDM).
“It’s a fictional non-profit in a fictional country, but all of these scenarios that they’re going through are based on the real lives and experiences of a lot of our trainers,” John Carr, a Northwest emergency disaster management instructor who coordinates the exercise, said. “We’ve changed the places, we’ve changed the people’s names, but we keep those there to tell these students, ‘This is a real-world situation and we are letting you go through it in a controlled environment. That way, if this is something you’re interested in in the future, you’ve made your mistakes and learned your lessons here rather than in the real world where your safety may be in jeopardy.’”
The scenario took a different approach this fall, veering from the domestic training and tornado that served as a premise for past Missouri Hope exercises. The objective remained the same, though, as it challenged students to overcome fears and hone skills as emergency responders. Students worked together with teams in mass casualty situations, water rescue operations, and search and rescue efforts, while rotating through leader and follower roles.
Karryssa Williams, a second-year nursing student at Northern Oklahoma College, was among the first to respond to the victims of the explosion. Williams participated in Missouri Hope for the first time last year and wanted to return this fall to further her learning and skills.
“It has greatly affected me,” she said. “Last year I was super timid. I hadn’t been to Missouri Hope before. I even cried at one point. But this year I’m definitely not as timid. I’ve tried to be a resource to others, kind of letting them know different things.”
Konner Magnuson, a Northwest senior parks and recreation major from David City, Nebraska, volunteered as a role player last year and wanted to be an active participant this year.
“I’m extremely uncomfortable being around this type of stuff, but being around people with different backgrounds is definitely giving me some valuable insight. It’s definitely testing my abilities,” he said. “With my interests, I want to dive into more leadership-type roles, and this is a great opportunity to test how I handle stressful situations and what kind of leader I can be.”
While Williams, Magnuson and the other first responders worked to help victims, based on their instincts and training, Atlantica’s de facto military and law enforcement challenged their thinking and pressured the medical workers to assist elsewhere.
Alex Rohlwing, a representative of the CHSE’s Florida contingent, played the part of the commander of the fictional Southern Atlantican Guard. Wielding rifles, Rohlwing and his team had negotiated with International Humanitarian Action to provide security the night before, but breakdowns in their communication resulted in repercussions and hostility between the teams on Saturday.
“There’s been an earthquake. There’s also spurts of violence left over from the civil war that occurred in this country, so as participants are responding we’re trying to provide security,” Rowling said. “Our job here from the staff side is to provide a sense of urgency and add to the tension and try to teach them to make decisions in those high-stress contexts.”
Joining Rohlwing were students in Northwest’s Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program, a partnership that develops commissioned officers for the Missouri Army National Guard and provides a pathway to degree completion.
“It helps us view it from the other side,” Lt. Dylan Richardson, a senior dietetics major from Savannah, said. “When we go into leadership positions, we’re going to be in moments of stress like that, too, and it’s nice to see how they react and see how we would handle that situation.”
Rohlwing, a disaster recovery specialist, is a veteran of the CHSE’s field training exercises, having participated in them for the last eight years. He was participating this weekend in Missouri Hope for the fourth time.
“The facility here is really awesome and one of the best things is they bring in all the different community and state resources,” he said. “There’s always big learning points that come up, smoothing out the wrinkles in coordination, checking on equipment. They’re really gracious to let us use the deployable medical tents that they have and the ambulances, and they also get a chance to play together before a real emergency happens. That way it runs more smoothly in the real world, so it’s really fun to be a part of that, to see everyone willing to help out and teach and then also practice their skills.”
Missouri Hope annually invites students, community members, and local and state responders to work in volunteer roles during the exercise. More than 300 role players volunteered this year as victims and first responders; 36 students from throughout the country were participating in the exercise, and another 72 served as faculty, staff and advisors. Nine different higher education institutions were involved, and 18 partner agencies and emergency management organizations joined the exercise.
Partner agencies included fire and rescue teams from throughout Nodaway County and northwest Missouri as well as the 129th Field Artillery Battalion Missouri Army National Guard in Maryville; the 7th Civil Support Team of the Missouri Air National Guard from Jefferson City; LifeNet Air Ambulances in St. Joseph; the Midwest Regional Dive Team from Clarinda, Iowa; SSM St. Francis Hospital in Maryville; and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensborough, North Carolina.
The CHSE is a 501(c)3 non-profit that coordinates full immersion experiences for individuals in the fields of disaster response and humanitarian relief. Comprised of higher education institutions and partner organizations, it hosts three exercises annually that consists of Missouri Hope in the fall; Atlantic Hope in Fort Pierce, Florida, during the spring; and New York Hope in Painted Post, New York, in the spring.
MOERA is a 320-acre parcel of land at Mozingo Lake Recreation Area, located east of Maryville on Highway 46. MOERA is operated by Northwest’s School of Health Science and Wellness 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
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468