WVSOM students, staff participate in statewide mass casualty exercise

WVSOM students acting as victims, eight residents from Greenbrier Valley Medical Center and AccessHealth, smoke, flames and a "crashed" airplane fuselage set the scene for a statewide mass casualty drill on Sept. 19 at the Raleigh County Airport near Beckley.

More than 130 faculty, staff and students volunteered for the event from WVSOM alone, with more than 400 participants and 30 agencies from across West Virginia. The mock training was an unexpected drill for many health providers in offering emergency medical care to the injured.

"Preparation and collaboration can only be learned through conducting an exercise or responding to a real event," WVSOM Alumnus, West Virginia State Surgeon and West Virginia Air National Guard Col. Steve Eshenaur, D.O., said of the importance of organizing a training of this magnitude. "Every responder walked away from this event having first-hand experience collaborating with other agencies and learning what preparation is required to conduct a better response in the future."

The mock airplane crash, which Eshenaur said was one of the largest mass casualty training events in the state's history, included everything from confused patients to a pre-term labor scenario. Victims' common symptoms ranged from lacerations, fractures, burns, respiratory distress and several "deaths." Victims were not only scattered across the airplane and runway, but also in nearby woods and trees.

Victims were flown via Blackhawk helicopters, Air Evac and HealthNet helicopters to Raleigh General Hospital and Beckley Regional Hospital. One WVSOM student volunteer gained a different insight as a "victim."

"Situations like this happen," first-year student Daniel Truong said. "This puts you in a different perspective acting as the patient so now I can see how I'd handle the situation as a physician."

Eshenaur said that medical students filled the need for examples of the wounded "playing the part" during a mass casualty exercise.

"The participating students from WVSOM provided a superb level of realism to the mass casualty exercise by simulating the moulage injuries as would be found in an aircraft accident," he said. In fact, WVSOM provided the highest number of volunteers among all West Virginia state agencies.

The responding agencies conducted an after action review where representatives deemed the value of the exercise in removing assumptions, encouraging collaboration, identifying strengths and weaknesses, determining capabilities, and implementing plans that had been developed individually into a cohesive response. Confidence in the ability of the participating agencies to respond to an incident was markedly improved by the exercise, Eshenaur said.

WVSOM's Rural Health Initiative, the National Guard and the federal government coordinated the exercise.