APU Nurses Participate in Disaster Training

by Darrah Christel

On February 2, 2006 at 6:45 a.m., sixteen senior nursing students along with 3 faculty members from APU joined efforts with the Volunteer Center of Los Angeles and over 1,700 other volunteers to support Los Angeles County’s Disaster Response Exercise. The exercise was dubbed “Operation Chimera*,”and its main purpose was to test the Department of Public Health’s ability to quickly dispense medication in the event of an anthrax attack.

According to the Glendale News Tribune, if terrorists released anthrax in the air in Los Angeles County, rescue workers would have 48 hours to distribute antibiotics to nearly 10 million people to prevent mass casualties. This two-hour disaster response exercise aimed to prepare for such an aerosolized release of anthrax. While the exercise was not based on any credible threats, the possibility of an anthrax attack is still very real. Thus, it is essential for our public health workers to be trained to handle this type of scenario.

Along with our APU students and faculty, hundreds of L.A. County’s first responders (doctors, nurses, fire and police personnel, paramedics, and other health professionals) gathered in Glendale to stimulate response for the community. Student Kimberly Stone said, “It was impressive to see all of the police and fire department, all of the first responders, and just the large number of volunteers [able and willing to help].” L.A. County hosts a number of similar exercises throughout the year in order to create solid contingency plans for emergencies.

Once registered, volunteers received “Que Sheets” with symptoms and medical conditions that they were to role play. The various symptoms portrayed helped first responders understand how to deal with different types of people and conditions during an actual emergency. The APU nursing students also learned by watching the Public Health nurses they regularly work with in clinical settings in this type of realistic, hands-on environment.

The Volunteer Center of Los Angeles recruited volunteers with such incentives as a free continental breakfast, free t-shirts, and a certificate of participation. Student Katherine Phillips adds that “The Red Cross truck was there and offered us food and other comfort measures, and answered our questions.” This was all in pay for the long periods standing and walking. Our nursing students also earned credit for participation as part of their clinical experience in the UNRS 410 Community Health Nursing course.

This event was the largest exercise of its kind and the first to be executed at multiple locations; it processed the most people of any bioterrorism exercise nationwide. According to Glendale Fire Captain Jim Frawey, this is the first time any agency in the country has attempted an exercise to try to distribute antibiotics to 1,500 people an hour. He adds that during a similar exercise in New York City, officials were able to distribute to only about 1,000 people in an hour. Associate Professor Connie Brehm, RN, PhD, FNP, says, “It was amazing to see how fast medicine could be dispensed if it really became necessary.”

For more information on volunteering for similar events, please call Karen Portillo from the Volunteer Center of Los Angeles at (818) 908-5143, or enroll online at www.vcla.net. The center thanks all the APU community members involved and hopes that more people will join next time to help make L.A. County disaster prepared.

*The word Chimera refers to an organism that has the properties of two or more organisms, like small pox mixed with plague.