Once a year for the past decade, Fanshawe College in London, Ontario has been host to a fake disaster that takes over the entire campus. These disasters can vary in scope including but not limited to a fire, a natural disaster, a bus crash, or even a plane accident. The mock disaster is a one-day event, but it takes months of careful planning to execute. For complete safety, even the NFPA Fire Watch Services are hired in case things do not go as per plan. Though the preparation may be tedious, the result is well worth the work. Fanshawe collaborates with local emergency response teams such as the London Fire Department and London Police Service, as well as other community partners to provide students of various programs hands on experience in a high pressure situation.
Fanshawe believes this mock disaster simulation is important as it allows students to apply the skills learned in the classroom and explore how they would actually handle themselves in a “real-life” crisis.
“We practice all of the time in our labs, but this event takes students to the next level,” says Chris Slabon, a professor of the Paramedics Program, School of Public Safety.
The last mock disaster took place on the morning of May 29th, 2019 when disaster struck as a pick-up truck lost control before hitting students and crashing. “Exercise Affray”, as the simulation was later named, resulted in a container of chlorine gas to burst as a result of the crash and gas was released into the crowd resulting in a hazardous materials response.
Members of the London Health Sciences Centre’s hazardous materials team were assessing and decontaminating patients while nursing students and residents from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry were at a separate building triaging and treating patients.
Though the simulation acts as a final exam for senior students in the paramedics’ program, it involves students from a wide range of disciplines who also get to put their skills to work. Students in the theatre arts program get to play the part of disaster victims alongside community volunteers, nursing students triage patients, police foundations students control traffic and crowds, emergency management students deal with managing the crisis, Media students handle all media relations, and Film students document the entire event. The success of this annual event, much like a real crisis, is only made possible through collaboration and teamwork.
For many students, this mock disaster training is their first time applying their theoretical know-how in a “real-life” situation. This may also be the first time many of these students are collaborating with those from other programs in real-time and under pressure.
“[The simulation] puts this added pressure on, of a real scene; the sounds, the smells, the effects,” says Simon Dearing, acting district chief with the London Fire Department. “It lets our team practice under real-life conditions. So when the real-life event does happen, we’re prepared to handle it professionally, quickly, and with no issues.”
Emma Laird is a recent graduate from Fanshawe College’s Paramedics program and now works with the Oxford County Paramedic Service. Laird reflected on her mock disaster day saying, “this was way above and beyond what could be simulated in the labs.” Additionally, this simulation benefits not just the students but the multitude of community partners involved.
According to Brenda Henry the Acting Manager of Fanshawe’s Emergency Management Office, “the exercises are a real-time test of our own ability to respond, and also demonstrate how effectively we are communicating with and working with our community partners, and how we can better support each other.”
Reid Doyle, a firefighter with the London Fire Department adds that “we are constantly training, but we don’t have the resources to simulate large crowds. Fanshawe, with its abundance of students, gives us a tremendous opportunity to practice with simulated patients.” Both community partners and students alike benefit from the added realism of this simulation to supplement their ongoing studies and training.
Exercise Affray is a creative opportunity that engages the whole campus through experiential learning. The annual mock disaster is an excellent example of how work-integrated learning is being incorporated into academic studies and not only provides students with valuable hands-on experience to supplement their work in the classroom but also benefits community partners.
In such a quickly evolving workforce, educators must look for innovative and creative ways to prepare the students of today to become the leaders of tomorrow. Work-integrated learning opportunities such as Exercise Affray are great examples of how experiential learning can be integrated into coursework as well as how it is beneficial to all. For institutions looking to introduce experiential learning into their classrooms or companies looking to interact with upcoming talent, Riipen can help. With a marketplace that connects students and academic institutions with companies, students can gain hands-on experience right in the classroom while networking with industry professionals.
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