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A make-believe tornado hit campus, ripping apart Neyland Stadium just before a football game. A handful of people were killed; dozens were injured.

This horrific scenario set the stage for UT’s full-scale disaster drill on Friday.

First responders from eleven agencies participated in the drill and more than 100 nursing students—the entire junior class—portrayed victims, complete with theatrical makeup that gave them realistic-looking gashes and bruises.

drill2The catastrophe played itself out in the morning, then gave way to an afternoon exercise where campus officials talked about repairs, closures, press briefings, and the process of getting back to normal.

“It was rewarding to see local partners and university personnel working together to improve campus preparedness. The exercise clearly demonstrated our planning and training efforts are working and will provide insights to further improve our readiness,” said Brian Gard, director of emergency management.

Now Gard and other campus leaders will study the feedback of evaluators and participants to improve UT’s emergency plans.

“That’s why we conduct exercises, to practice our procedures and to find ways to improve and create a safer campus,” he said.

The drill provided a special opportunity for nursing students to hone their skills by seeing what it feels like to be a patient.

Michael Moore, a junior in nursing, portrayed a sixteen-year-old who had fallen from the stadium’s upper deck. Not only was he badly injured, he was concerned about his mother, who was nowhere to be found.

drill1Moore, who wants to go into pediatric nursing, said the experience will help him be more empathetic to injured and scared patients.

“I was obviously one of the more labor-intensive patients, and it was rewarding to see how empathetic and composed the EMTs from Rural Metro were in caring for me,” he said. “In spite of being exhausted, overwhelmed, under-resourced, and drenched in sweat, they still made eye contact and accurately addressed the questions I screamed at them in a calm, understanding, and personal manner. That skill is a superpower in the health-care world and life in general. If I can translate a fraction of their care into how I interact with patients, it would be a blessing.”

He said the drill was unexpectedly taxing.

“I was surprised how emotionally exhausting it was to simply act like a victim,” he said. “At the end of the exercise I wanted so badly to see the rest of my story on the script card. Did he survive? Did he find his mom? Was she OK?”

Emily Nicholson, a junior in nursing, portrayed a pregnant woman with a compound fracture of her right arm and right leg.

“It felt real once everyone started screaming and first responders started arriving,” she said. “Your adrenaline was pumping and you felt anxious even though you knew it was just a drill. It was a great experience to see the coordinating that occurs during a disaster and how all the different agencies work together.”

Polly McArthur, clinical assistant professor of nursing, was there to oversee the students portraying the victims.

“We have some Oscars to give,” she joked, noting how well the students played injured and hurting victims. “I think a lot of that is emanating from the students having observed some things during their own clinical rotations.”

McArthur’s daughter, Moriah McArthur, a clinical instructor of nursing who works with the Global Disaster Nursing program, was there with four graduate students to observe response times and follow the victims through triage and transport.

drill3They praised the first responders, noting that initial evaluations were done and most of the walking wounded removed from the stadium within fifteen minutes.

“When you’re injured and scared, though, even five minutes feels like a really long time,” Moriah McArthur said. “The first responders did a great job of maintaining calm and comforting victims during the sorting, triage, and treatment processes.”

Jessica Osteen, a junior in nursing, also portrayed a victim. She had a facial cut and a piece of glass embedded in her hand­—injuries deemed relatively minor compared to many.

“We were asked to scream and yell and cause problems because that is what would happen if this was a real disaster,” she said. “The first responders were able to do their job effectively even though many of the students were playing up their injuries and making a ruckus.

She said the drill was helpful not only because she’s a future nurse but also because she’s a student at a large university where anything could happen.

“I think it was an eye-opening experience for both the first responders and the students,” she said. “I definitely think this is something that should continue to be done. The more practice we all get, the more confident everyone on campus will be that we are safe and there is a plan in place.”


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,