Disaster simulation gives Nebraska Med students emergency experience

University of Nebraska Medical Center students got hands-on experience responding to an emergency situation thanks to a disaster simulation program.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:47 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A tornado blows through a rural area, multiple injuries dot the landscape, and people are trapped underneath cars and tree trunks.

This is only a drill, but it’s made to be as real as possible for resident students and nurses in the emergency medical field at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“I think it’s important that we understand what our resources are and how we utilize those resources when we have a disaster,” said Jason Langenfeld, the UNMC Disaster Simulation Director. “Things in our area would be a tornado, a fire, really any natural disaster or large trauma.”

Two dozen students are confronted with 42 victims in need of various levels of care.

Annie Nyffeller is one of the volunteer victims.

“I have what was supposed to be a tree injury that caused an arterial bleed that’s going to be hemorrhaging out, so they need to know to put a tourniquet on me and get me correctly triaged,” Nyffeller said.

To add to the realism, Annie has a device that pumps out fake blood.

A few yards away, Joshua Henry lies in the weeds with a broken back. He can’t move his legs.

Henry, who works in the emergency room at the medical center, says this training is valuable for aspiring doctors because they never know what they may encounter when working with trauma.

“I think it’s very important to kind of work in the triage perspective of the medicine, for us, is like the physician role,” Henry said. “So, trying to figure out who, when it comes to disaster medicine, truly deserves your attention urgently, because sometimes, you’re working in the ER and it’s just you alone and you’ve got a bunch of different patients coming in trying to give you help with how to direct care. So it’s important.”

In all, 42 injuries were scattered across the outdoor classroom; some actors, and some mannequins. Some with serious injuries, and some who don’t make it. Five deaths, in all.

And there was even one surprise: a woman who was 36 weeks pregnant.

Some of the aforementioned mannequins are much more than what someone would find in the average retail store.

These mannequins are high-tech, equipped with technology capable of showing human tendencies, such as blood pressure and heart rate. They can be given shots if needed — and they even talk. With a price tag of $50,000 a pop, they can do everything but walk on their own.

The mannequins are controlled by a tablet nearby.

“I’m able to control their vitals, heart palpitations,” simulation specialist Teena Foster-Smtih said. “If they have a collapsed lung, then only one side of their chest would raise. right now, I’m causing the mannequin to moan as if he’s in pain and I’m changing his vitals as if he’s shallow in breath.”

Any and every possible scenario is presented to get this group of medical personnel some experience in dealing with mass injuries before having to perform in real-life situations.

“We never know what’s going to come through the door,” said Katie Willet, an emergency physician at Nebraska Medicine. “That’s part of what training is for, to get that experience. But when we talk about these large-scale [disasters], it’s even harder to plan out. Many residents will go through their residency without experiencing that personally, but most of us will have some time during our career where you’re experiencing kind of these mass patient volumes that you’re not expecting.”

Gretna Fire and Rescue crews also helped out with the training session.