NM high school students train for car bomb incidents
The explosions "injured" nearly 200 students, and another 500 became nurses, crime scene investigators and trauma counselors responding to the incident
By Ali Linan
Las Cruces Sun-News
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A beautiful morning turned into a mock crisis situation for the students of Las Cruces High School Friday.
For an hour and a half, the practice football field behind the school turned into a major crime scene as students were involved in simulated car bomb attacks. The explosions injured nearly 200 students. Another 500 students became nurses, crime scene investigators and trauma counselors responding to the incident.
The purpose of the simulation is to give students an idea of what a real-world disaster event could be like and how they could use their skills to handle it, said Jo Annna Singer, a LCHS teacher and one of the organizers.
"I hope they learned that there's a lot of truth in what we did today," Singer said.
The program was part of the Health and Human Services Academy at the high school where students learn foundational career skills in law, education and pre-nursing, said Guadalupe Castillo, a LCHS teacher and the second organizer.
Castillo said the idea came about in July, when she and Singer wanted to give the students real-world training. Throughout the first semester of the school year, students learned terminology and how to deal with certain scenarios that would help them be successful in the simulation.
Two simulations —or mock car bombings—happened simultaneously.
Students who were studying medicine became search and rescue teams and triage teams, practicing bandaging patients and using CPR. Those in law took in police reports, studied the crime scene and compared fingerprints. And those in education worked with patients who may have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Triage, transport and on-site morgue sections spread out on the track, as well as a law enforcement and therapy tents.
"A lot of our kiddos chose a pathway. Some know they really want to do that, some just need a little bit of experience and if they change their mind, they change their mind," Castillo said. "It gives them an opportunity to learn what they want to do outside of high school."
To help students, volunteer staff from MountainView Regional Medical Center, Las Cruces Fire and paramedics, directed students on how they should be tackling the situation in front of them and when to let go and move on.
"We're helping students figure out each casualty and if they don't have the tool they need to deal with it, what else they can use," said Ruth Viegas, emergency room director for MountainView.
For example, one of the victims could not see due to blood in their eyes. Nothing in the medical bag could help, so Viegas suggested the students find a water bottle to rinse out the patient's eyes.
Nikki Hawkins, trauma director of MountainView, said the simulation was great practice on what to do during an emergency.
"A mass casualty happens in the U.S. every day," Hawkins said. "It's not a question of if it will happen, but when."
Spc. Jason Rice, a National Guard recruiter in the area, directed the search and rescue crews. He said he was tasked with creating chaos which he did by yelling at the students about what they were doing wrong—such as incorrectly putting the injured victims next to the "dead" students in the morgue—and pushing them to get organized more quickly.
"My job is to make it stressful, to rush them and make them question everything they do so they rely on what they've learned," Rice said. "In real life, there's no time to second guess."
Katie Allbright, a 16-year-old sophomore, was one of the more devoted injured patients. As she screamed for her fictitious little brother and friend Ashley, student nurses huddled around her working to clean her off and comfort her.
"People are dead?" she asked. "We're all going to die!"
Her injuries consisted of wounds to the head, an inability to see or walk, and PTSD.
Allbright said she thinks it's important for students her age to practice being in these situations.
"If something was to happen (at the school) we'd know what to do," Allbright said.
Following the event, student and disaster victim Amanda Kmetz, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the mock exercise was a reality check.
Kmetz was "injured" in the bombing and said no one came to help her. When help finally arrived, she went into cardiac arrest and the students performed CPR for 10 minutes. By that time, the students declared they couldn't save her, and they left to help someone else.
"They let me die; it was scary," Kmetz said. "I didn't want to die, but they said, 'We have to let this girl die to help someone else.' It was a reality check."
This is the first time the HHS Academy has put on a simulation of this size, Castillo said. They intend to do different scenarios in following years.
The students got to see and do everything first-hand, the goal of the mock disaster.
"This is the type of scenario that could happen anywhere, if you stay here. Granted, it hasn't happened, but it could," Castillo said. "It's a reality of our world right now."
Copyright 2018 Las Cruces Sun-News