Monthly Archives: March 2021

Piedmont College Disaster Drill


March 24, 2021 at approximately 10 a.m., students at Piedmont College began to witness harsh winds, debris, and chaos as the Swanson center filled with smoke.

            “The disaster drill here at Piedmont is an annual event we have for our nursing, athletic training, theatre, and mass communication majors,” said Professor Karen Greilich, the organizer of the event.

             Thankfully the commotion of smoke and debris were staged to help make the experience appear more real. This year, Piedmont simulated a tornado and fire to help about 200 nursing students get some hands-on learning experiences. Not only were the students involved, but this drill also included the City of Demorest Police and Fire departments, Habersham County Medical Center and EMS, Habersham County Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office, 911/Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security, Habersham Search and Rescue, and District Two Public Health Administration. 

         “My role was to flirt with the rescuers and ask if they wanted to go get a drink and I made it convincing by doing just that,” said Caitlyn Worthy, a junior and nursing major at Piedmont. Caitlyn’s role was to act as a victim who was trying to distract the rescuers to make it even more challenging for them to stay professional and do their job. Both juniors and senior nursing majors were able to participate in this event. The juniors were playing the victims and were all covered in fake blood and had fake diagnoses. The seniors were the nurses and had to help treat all the “patients.” Caitlyn said, “My favorite part was to see the victims acting in a real way to better the drill and make it as real as possible.”

            Professor Greilich said, “Last year we were unable to do the disaster drill due to COVID-19, however we were fortunate enough to make it happen this year. This is an annual event and about the 14th or 15th year we have had the chance to do it.” When asked if this is an event that will continue for years to come, she said, “Absolutely, it will only get better and more real.” 

            Gabby Lotter, a senior and athletic training major at Piedmont also had the opportunity to participate in this event. “This teaches students how to collaborate with other healthcare professionals in the event of an emergency.” Not only were the students told to act like it was a real tornado and fire, so were all the emergency and medical professionals that came to participate. They also made the event seem extremely real as the firefighters wore all their actual gear, and medical professionals helped guide and direct the nursing students. 

            Not only did the nursing and athletic training students make it believable, but so did the theatre and mass communication majors as well. Theatre students were at the Swanson Center hours before the event kicked off to help dress up the victims and make them look as if real injuries had occurred. The mass communication majors had students taking video and interviewing people of all kinds at the scene as if it were a real breaking news story.

            Overall, this experience had a positive impact on all individuals involved. It gave the nursing students at Piedmont a closer look at what a real-life situation in the medical filed may look like one day. It allowed theatre students to practice their acting skills and make the situation as believable as possible. It also gave the mass communication students an opportunity to practice their reporting, interviewing, and video shooting skills. This drill is something that not many schools give their students the opportunity to participate in, however, Piedmont goes above and beyond to give their students the most knowledge and experience in their field of study before their time at Piedmont has concluded.

            Gabby Lotter stated, “This experience was really cool and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

10 dead after category three tornado hits Piedmont College.

There were approximately 70 victims, with 10 deceased and 15 people in critical condition.

“We were not at a total loss. We had some people that jumped on and got things done,” says Vice President for safety and building management Fred Bucher.

It all started at approximately 9:00 AM on March 24, a category three tornado hit the Swanson center at Piedmont College. 

“We were walking around the campus enjoying the day when it got quiet, and the trees began falling,” says Casey Ellis, a person injured in the storm.

The tornado that hit Swanson came without any warning. The clouds began to swirl when it touched down right next to the building. Many people ran to seek shelter but were unable to.

“Because the Swanson performing arts center sits on a hill, it was badly damaged,” explained Fred Bucher.

The Swanson center’s air conditioning units were toppled over and shorted out. This created a fire on top of the building due to the air ducts. Many of the casualties that were seen were caused by the collapse of the roof and the debris.

When arriving on the scene, the City of Demorest Police and Fire departments, Habersham Search, Rescue and Habersham County MedicalCenter and EMS were all there helping the injured. The nursing majors at Piedmont College were also hard at work trying to save everyone they could.

“We are being able to triage everyone and make sure everyone’s going to get out safely,” says senior nursing major Kaylee White, who was on the scene.

Piedmont is fortunate to be able to have fantastic nursing students on campus to help in such a tragedy. They worked along with many experts to find and treat everyone. They placed three large tarps in the quad of Swanson. The colors were red, yellow and green. Each tarp represented how the patient needed to be treated and what condition they were in.

Thanks to the help of the nursing students at Piedmont and the experts that arrived quickly on the scene, the casualties were able to be kept at a minimum and many lives were saved.

The Disaster Drill Was a Huge Success

DEMOREST, GA – The 2021 disaster drill was staged at the Piedmont College Swanson Center, which brought together theater, mass communication, and nursing majors. This annual event simulates a real catastrophe, complete with difficulties, victims, all the confusion that comes with it.

“We want to make it a very realistic event so that it will be beneficial for all of the agencies involved,” associate professor Karen Greilich said. “Each year, our campus community and area emergency response personnel come together to create this incredible real-world learning experience for our students.”

Artificial smoke and fire consumed the Swanson Center while the victims of the “tornado” laid inside and outside the building. The victims were theatre major students dressed up with fake injuries and wounds, treated by the nursing trainees. For senior nursing students at Piedmont College, the drill was a fantastic opportunity to get some experience assessing injuries and caring for victims before entering the field.

“It gives nursing students the opportunity to prepare for anything,” says Junior nursing major Caitlyn Worthy.

Emergency fields such as the fire department and police force attended the event and shared their wisdom and experience with the aspiring nurses. Meanwhile, as the chaos is unfolding, mass communication students gather interviews and reports of the simulated catastrophe.

“It definitely did affect last year seniors,” says Samantha Barnes, senior nursing student, when discussing how COVID-19 canceled last year’s drill. “Especially in the trauma area, they didn’t get the practice they needed to without this experience.”

The spread of COVID-19 hindered the possibility of having the drill in 2020, and seniors missed the vital practice. COVID-19 also affected this year’s maneuvers from being played out to the full experience.

The 2021 disaster drill brought chaos to senior nursing students, acting practice for the theatre department, and practice covering media for mass communication scholars.

Breaking News

Students Killed at North Georgia College by Tornado 


Mar 24, 2021 

A tornado struck North Georgia and made contact on the campus of Piedmont College, killing several students and leaving several injured.  Medical professionals are treating a wide range of injuries from moderate to near fatal, and the number of casualties is currently unknown.  

“We had a tornado hit the Swanson Center this morning at approximately 10 a.m. which made something go wrong on the roof, making the Swanson Center catch on fire,” said Piedmont College Chief of Police James Andrews.  

The tornado hit right as a couple hundred nursing students arrived at the Swanson Center for disaster training. Most students injured and killed are nursing students.  For those who narrowly escaped the storm, the events took a turn; seniors to freshmen were thrown into a life-saving and life-threatening emergency.  

Overcome with shock and grief, they struggled through the heavy smoke to help who they could until medical professionals arrived. Distraught, a nursing student identified only as Kaleigh, searched the bodies laid across the campus lawn.  

“I can’t find Ollie. I looked everywhere; I just can’t find him,” said the nursing student.   

From across the lawn, bloodied students could be heard calling out for help.  

“I can’t hear. Leave me alone. I can’t hear.  A tornado blew through,” said nursing student Alberto Perez.  

Warming blankets and body bags line the lawn of the Swanson Center while authorities try to keep onlookers away. 

While severe storms are typical in this area at this time of year, a tornado is not. The last tornado warning was in April 2019.  Rotation was sighted, but it never touched ground. Lieutenant Matt Ruark with the Habersham County Fire Department was at the scene.  

“It was a category 3 tornado that touched down on the roof, collapsing it, and triggering a fire,” said Ruark. “We have not determined the number of casualties. This is a sad, sad day. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have yet to be notified, as this is an ongoing investigation. That is all I can say at this time.” 

Tornado Wipes Out Swanson Center at Piedmont College

A category 3 tornado struck Piedmont’s Swanson center on March 24 causing a catastrophic fire in the building. 

“I had really bad burns to my leg and they still hurt. I was walking through and all of a sudden sirens were going off and then a tornado came through and an explosion happened,” said Katelyn Perry, a person injured in the storm.

It all began around 9 AM that morning. The tornado hit without any warning as the clouds began to swirl when it touched down next to the Swanson Center. 

Many people were rushing inside to seek shelter. Some were unlucky as they were hit with flying debris and were severely injured.

“What was happening inside the building is the fire department was doing their thing, the source of the fire was in the ductwork because some of the ceiling collapsed,” explained Vice President for safety and building management Fred Bucher.

The Swanson center’s airduct system was damaged during the tornado which led to a fire on top of the building. The fire grew rapidly causing the ceiling to collapse with many people inside. Many victims were badly injured by falling debris and treated by the nurses on scene.

Piedmont’s nursing students arrived on scene and quickly got to work tending to the victims. The EMS for Habersham County was on the scene with Habersham County Fire Department and Demorest Police. The nursing students rushed in and out of the burning Swanson Center working tirelessly to help anyway possible.

“They are all tragic events, and we deal them as we can, but I would probably say this disaster was probably a 6 out of 10,” said Floyd Canup, who works for Demorest Police.

Those on scene have seen worse disasters and wanted to make sure they were there for the people who were in need of help. Emergency services wanted to care for the victims and even arrest someone who was trying to steal personal items from the victims. 

“We were not at a total loss, we had people jump on and get things done,” explained Fred Bucher. 

Ultimately, Piedmont is incredibly lucky to have incredible nursing students that can help during a situation along with all the first responders. Without them many victims would not have been treated on time at the scene of the fire and the damage outside the Swanson Center caused by a catastrophic tornado.

Disaster Strikes

A powerful tornado touched down at Piedmont College early Wednesday morning, claiming 10 lives and injuring several more. 

“At approximately 9 a.m. this morning, a category three tornado came through the area. Because the Swanson Performing Arts Center sits on a hill, it was badly damaged,” said Fred Bucher, the college’s assistant vice president for facilities management and safety. “We have approximately 70 victims, unfortunately, 10 deceased, and we have 15 that are critical.”

This was the scene Piedmont College students found themselves in what seemed like a typical class morning: as Habersham County and Demorest EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement filled the scene, dozens of nurses worked quickly to assist the injured. Due to the elevated location and placement of the Swanson Center, the area was hit hard by the tornado. There was no reason to prepare for the disaster as there was no cause for concern. “There had not been a tornado warning in effect,” said Bucher, adding that this led everyone to assume there was no imminent danger. 

“People were flying everywhere. They were hurt. I was scared,” said Monica, a student who walked away from the scene with minimal injuries. Monica, like many, was at a loss of words for the events that had taken place, left only with these jarring images of what had occurred.

As the unexpected disaster caused a chaotic scene, students who were not at the Swanson Center when the tornado touched down rushed to help out on the scene. “I was really scared,” said student Brooke Cassidy. “I was really supportive to everybody, and I just hope everybody is okay.” 

As the scene began to empty and more people were assisted and transported, it was clear this day will have a lasting effect on all involved. The disaster response teams and students alike share the same sentiment as student Camille Johnson who said, “I’m just glad it’s over.”

The Disaster Drill

Piedmont College mocked a severe tornado that wiped out the Swanson Center.

 Beginning in 2017, the annual disaster drill help at Piedmont college has allowed students in various majors to experience a real-life scenario to practice in their presumed field of work. The disaster drill is hosted at the Swanson Center in Demorest, Georgia, permitting students to experience and participate in their fields of work for the future. Whether it is a school shooting or a natural disaster, this drill benefits multiple majors for Piedmont College students. The drill for this year mocked a severe tornado, specifically a category three tornado. It was so severe that people lost limbs, smoke filled the Swanson Center, and everything was destroyed. Theater, Mass Communications, and specifically Nursing majors could experience the most realistically possible front-hand situations.

Theater majors practiced makeup and acting skills as students were acting injured, disable, and sometimes incapacitated all while covered in fake wounds, fake blood, and fake bruises. Mass communications majors experienced the opportunity to create breaking news stories, interviews, and live radio shows. Where nursing majors experienced the front lines of this drill, taking care of each victim’s needs and learning how to quickly react in a disaster.

Health Science Major, Maddie Cassidy played one of the victims of the tornado, where next here she explained she will move onto partaking in the health aspect of the drill. For all students in the health sciences departments, usually students begin as a victim then partake in the learning aspect the next year.

“I’m glad they asked me to be a part of the event because it is an amazing event for Piedmont students,” said Cassidy.

Caitlyn Worthy, Junior Nursing Student, played one of the victims in the scene. Worthy explained how the drill allows nursing students to understand how to act quickly in a travesty such as a severe tornado. As Worthy approaches her senior year of nursing, she will aid in helping the victims in next year’s disaster drill.

“Piedmont gives nursing students the ability to be in the field as much as possible. I take clinical now and we are all able to participate in the disaster drill. Having so many ways to practice before becoming a nurse is really awesome,” said Worthy.

After speaking with many students, especially nursing students do not take this opportunity and practice for granted. Most students in all majors agreed that this was a great hands-on experience and much better than being in the classroom.

Both, Chelsea Arnold and Sidney Brandon, Senior Nursing students, added that the event was well put together and understand the depth of what a disaster can do. Arnold gave the example that being out in the field, even it being staged, is a much way better way to learn compared to looking at a mannequin.

“You can learn things all day when you are actually in the field, so it gives you a hands-on opportunity. It is more than learning stuff from a classroom,” said Brandon.

Because of the coronavirus, this year’s drill was different than in years past. Not as many individuals participated, masks had to be worn throughout the event, and there was not as much physical interaction between individuals. Fred Bucher, the Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management and Safety and Coordinator, Title IX, shared information on this year’s disaster drill compared to the year’s prior. 

“This one might have been a little more scripted and a little less free play, but two years ago, it was phenomenal,” said Bucher.

Even though this year’s drill was different and more difficult to construct for students and the community, students enjoyed learning and understanding what a disaster can be like. The concept of learning and practicing within each field of work was present, students enjoyed the drill, and students left with a better knowledge of working through a real disaster. In this case, the 2021 disaster drill was a success.

Because of this drill, nursing, theater, and mass communications majors were a part of an experience that most students do not get the opportunity to participate in. With one of the largest nursing programs in the state, the disaster drill attracts many aspiring nursing students at Piedmont College. For this drill has become a major project for theater students, mass communications students, and nursing students to encounter a real-life scenario before entering the work field. 

Breaking News- Disaster at Piedmont College

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a category three tornado struck the city of Demorest, GA causing mass destruction to the Swanson Center on the Piedmont College campus. Due to the powerful storm, the A.C. units on the roof tipped over causing a rooftop fire, which then made the roof collapse on the students inside the building. 

“We have approximately 70 victims, unfortunately, we have 10 deceased, and we have 15 that are in critical care that need to be transported to a hospital”, said Fred Bucher, who is the Assistant Vice President of facilities and safety. “The remaining victims have cuts and scrapes that we will be treating on sight.” 

Without a warning, this tornado went into action causing panic among all the students trapped inside the Swanson Center. Most students were just getting ready for their morning classes when this event took place. 

“I don’t know what happened”, said Kasey Ellis, a junior nursing major at Piedmont. “We were just enjoying the day, and then all of a sudden it got very quiet, and we looked behind us at what was coming.”

Habersham county police, firefighters, trauma doctors, and piedmonts student nurses all worked together to administer aid to everyone who needed it. The teams worked quickly to try and save as many victims as possible.  

“Not knowing what we were about to walk into, it’s scary. Especially on a mass casualty situation, you have a lot that you have to deal with,” said Sheriff Chris Hall.

While this devastating event has sent heartache to so many families, Bucher wants the community of Demorest to understand that the recovery process as already began.

“I wish the city of Demorest could see all these young men and women in their green suits. They all have a superb knowledge in their field of study. We have people that can and will get the job done when their name is called.”

Profile Story: Mark Jestel

Mark Jestel, director of residential living at Piedmont College, wanted to be a biology teacher. 

“When I first entered my undergrad, actually got my degree in biology,” Jestel says, adding that his first experience in housing came as he was “making friends with wrong the wrong group of people.”

After getting into housing, he would then become an RA at his college. He would realize that he was actually a good RA and wanted to pursue a career in housing. He would then get his master’s degree in housing, and the rest is history.

“I had never heard of Piedmont before, they extended an offer to me to be able to interview with them,” says Jestel. 

After getting his degree, Jestel would find out how much fun housing would be and how cool all the job placement conferences were. It was very stressful for him having to have many back-to-back interviews with schools. After hitting it off with Piedmont, Jestel would get close with his coworkers and is enjoying his job here at Piedmont, where he has been for more than seven years.

“One of the biggest challenges is be an advocate for students, while also recognizing that this is a business,” he said.

Jestel said he will always back his students up when it comes to things. But he recognizes that this is a job, and he has to make sure they spend money wisely. 

Outside of his job here at Piedmont, he does like to do other things. For example, he says he enjoys frisbee golf, which is a fun sport to play, as well as watching movies. He is also an avid reader. “I read 5 books every month,” he said. 

But he doesn’t have a lot of free time to do other things because he is working on getting his Ph.D. right now.

Jestel is a great at his job here at Piedmont and continues every day to make sure that the students here always have a smile on their face. 

“I realized this is actually something you could do for a living and got my master’s degree in it and the rest is hidtory,” says Jestel.

Preparing the Medical Heroes of Tomorrow

As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” That is what happened at Piedmont College on Wednesday Mar. 24. Senior nursing students from both the Demorest and Athens campuses participated in the annual Piedmont College disaster drill to gain in the field experience for their future careers.

 “There’s nothing better,” said Piedmont College Assistant Vice President for Facilities, Management, and Safety, Fred Bucher. “They’re about one year away from doing this for real.”

Senior Piedmont College nursing students participated in realistic conditions of a disaster crisis at the Swanson Center in Demorest, GA.  Arrangements were made by the Demorest Fire Department, Piedmont College Campus Police, Habersham County Ambulances, Georgia Health System Trauma, Acute Care Services, and Habersham County Emergency Medical Services to appear and assist these nurses. This disaster was an ultimate testament of hard work, dedication, and experience.  Other preparations included Piedmont College Campus Police shutting down nearby roads as well as the pedestrian bridge to the Swanson center. The inside of the Swanson Center was smoked out with fog machines, and underclassmen nursing students were lying on the ground inside and outside the building appearing with fake blood visible on their bodies. Other Piedmont College students served as media documenting the event.  The media’s duties included interviewing victims, nurses and first responders. This drill was intentionally designed to be as realistic as possible for these nursing students and mass communication students.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to learn how to respond to these situations, work on your toes, and work on teamwork and communication,” said senior nursing major Jennifer Daniel. “I think it’s important to know how to control your brain in the middle of stressful situations, when people scream at you, you don’t scream back, and try to be patient while also being focused and ready to move.”

Victims were each given different injuries and roles to play in the experiment. For example, some victims had head injuries while others had leg injuries or other broken bones. Some victims were required to act flirtatious with the nurses while other victims would pilfer medical supplies, cell phones or other materials that were lying on the ground or from other victims. Other victims were either mentally traumatized, mildly to severely injured or even deceased.

“I think [the nurses] definitely need this for the experience so they can have skill at a wide range of things and be as well-rounded as possible,” said senior athletic training major Max Miller. “It definitely changes my mindset on being a rescuer.”

Miller’s role in the drill this year was as a victim of the disaster. Since he is part of a five-year study for athletic training at Piedmont, he will participate in the drill next year as one of the rescuers who will work to save the victims.

This medical initiation really taught these young nursing students how to respond to their call of duty in a real-life medical emergency. This drill does not just show what these nurses have been learning for the past four years, but it also gives the nurses the confidence, skills and poise to deal with real life situations for their future careers.