Disaster (Drill) Strikes Piedmont College

A lethal disaster struck at the Piedmont College Swanson Center on March 24 — but it was only a drill. 

“The scenario for this [drill] was: we had some swirling clouds, but there had not been an actual tornado warning in effect,” said Fred Bucher, the assistant vice president for facilities management and safety. “We hope that doesn’t happen; we hope we get a warning, but we’re playing this as if we had no warning.”

A disaster simulation of a category three tornado hit the Swanson Center, sending over 400 participating students and volunteers into an experience like no other. According to the Piedmont College website, the drill included about 80 junior nursing students to play the role of victims and 80 senior nursing majors to serve as responders. Along with them, theatre students provided realistic makeup and pyrotechnics, and communications students simulated a press conference afterward.

“We have law enforcement and EMS personnel from the city of Demorest,” said Bucher. “We have the county EMS, and I think we have representatives from the North Georgia Medical Center as well, which is really super because we’ve never had that before, and we really want them to get involved.”

The drill coordinators and participants truly strived for authenticity, bringing in multiple first responders, victims, and nurses who stayed in character throughout the drill. Police on the scene even pretended to arrest one student for looting from the victims. The drill participants seemingly thought of everything, from a little girl yelling for her mom to a man looking for his dog. The simulation created a necessary and authentic first-hand experience for the nursing students on the scene.

“There’s nothing better,” said Bucher about the nursing students’ experience. “When I first got here, and we did this, we just steadily improved it over time, and Karen Greilich, who’s the emergency nurse, and she’s got lots of trauma experience, she has just made this thing better and better.”

Due to COVID-19, the disaster drill had to be canceled last year, but this year, the exercise could happen under certain restrictions. Now with the pandemic slowing down, the annual disaster drill will be expected to be enacted once again next year.

“Two years ago, it was phenomenal, and [Greilich]’s already got the plan for next year, and it’s going to be great,” said Bucher. “The next one’s going to be great.”

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