British Columbia·Photos

Vancouver Community College takes quake drill to next level

Each year, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians take part in the ShakeOut B.C. earthquake drill, but this year, health-care students at Vancouver Community College ramped up the exercise with simulated disaster response and triage.

About 800,000 British Columbians took part in the ShakeOut B.C. drill this year.

Students at VCC fill out triage tags, assigning health-care priority to a mock earthquake victim during a drill on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The alarm sounds and Vancouver Community College's Broadway campus empties. Students and staff gather in a field across the road. Once they're given the "all clear" signal, they go back to their classrooms.

It's the annual ShakeOut B.C. earthquake drill. But for the health-care students, the real drill has just begun.

Volunteers given realistic makeup wounds are strewn about the building's third and fourth floors. The actors do their best impressions of suffering earthquake victims and groups of nursing, dental hygiene and health-unit coordinator students are led from victim to victim.

Students assess a pretend earthquake victim and assign her priority for receiving health care. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Some of it is very realistic," said VCC. Health Sciences dean Debbie Sargent.

"We have casualties who have fractures, who have had seizures, who are pregnant and are experiencing cramping, people who have heart disease and have heart, chest pain. 

All kinds of disorders and casualties are being found by groups of students as they rotate between the two floors."

Nina Blanes is on the faculty at Douglas College, but she volunteered to take part in VCC's earthquake drill. She performed as a pregnant victim with fake vomit on her shirt. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Trami Pham is a student in VCC's unit clerk program. Her forehead was adorned with a big gash and her shirt looked blood-stained. 

"I've got a head laceration," she explained, adding that she didn't feel her performance was especially convincing.

"I'm terrible. I'm pretending to be unconscious."

Trami Pham plays the role of unconscious earthquake victim with a head laceration. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I feel like it puts the [bachelor of science in nursing] students in a real life situation, rather than having, like, having to read off paper and imagine it," said Pham. "This way they actually get to experience it."

Andrea Jung has been a practical nurse for 12 years, but she's back at school as a BSN student.

"It's been pretty real," she said of the training exercise.

"It is realistic when you look at the person's eyes and you can see that they're scared. For me, as a nurse, I just want to stay with them and help them, but this exercise is to triage," said Jung. 

"It's to see who is the most important person to attend to right away, who can be delayed and who's okay and just needs to be kept calm."

BSN student Andrea Jung holds up a triage tag used to determine which quake victims get care first. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

According to ShakeOut B.C., more than 800,000 people in the province took part in the annual drill this year. Worldwide, more than 50 million people participated.

But VCC decided to take the opportunity to step up the drill and provide the training scenarios for health-care students.

Elizabeth Burnyeat works as area warden/assembly coordinator while hundreds of VCC students and staff amass in a field during the earthquake drill. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's a very practical experience for them to really understand and realize what could happen if there was a real earthquake or another kind of event," said Sargent.

"Shakeout B.C. is just a perfect, perfect exercise for people to gain awareness of what they need to do in case of an earthquake.

The practice makes it more real and helps them to be better prepared if there was an earthquake."

Lisa MacNeill takes cover under a desk at Vancouver Community College during the "earthquake" part of Thursday's drill. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Jung agreed that the drill seemed helpful for training.

"it's been a really great exercise — not easy to go into a disaster," she said.

"It's something that I've never personally been through, but it's been a really good experience to see how I would feel, like, I'm feeling the panic, the heart rate racing and just, what should I do? Who do I go to first? It's been challenging but also fun."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker