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VCOM-Auburn Inaugural Disaster Drill Day invites emergency response preparedness collaboration between medical students, AU units and local agencies
6/30/2017

The scene was completely unexpected.

Dozens of second-year medical students in dark blue scrubs milled around the triage tents and tarps, many with looks of uncertainty on their faces, as disaster “victims” were brought into their areas. The “victims,” played by first-year medical students, all had pre-determined injuries and were in various stages of distress. Suddenly, recalling their training, the second-year medical students sprang into action, pulling from the medical skills many of them had cultivated thus far, mostly from a computer screen or classroom.

Disaster Drill Day banner and VCOM building

The inaugural VCOM-Auburn Disaster Drill Day took place at the back of
VCOM, located on South Donahue Drive.

Such was the atmosphere on April 28 at the inaugural Disaster Drill Day, hosted by the Edward via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Auburn (VCOM) and in collaboration with Auburn University Risk Management & Safety (RMS). Other participants included first responders with the Auburn and Opelika Fire divisions, Auburn University Public Safety and members of the Campus Community Emergency Response Team (CCERT). Through two simulated disaster incidents – including a wreck with hazardous chemical spill and a tornado strike - more than 150 second-year VCOM medical students were evaluated on their emergency response abilities in order to obtain their National Basic Life Support certification.

The participants went into the drill blind, with no clue as to what the disasters would be or of the injuries they would have to know how to treat. The same can be said for real-life mass casualty situations, where every person affected – from local first responders and medical professionals, to universities and community members – must know how to respond in order to survive or save a life.

Though the original purpose of the Disaster Day Drill was to introduce medical students to the realities of a natural or man-made disaster as part of their learning, the overall resulting significance of the event was twofold…

 

Full-Scale Disaster Preparedness Scenarios Offer Life-Like Learning Environment

Firefighters and first responders with Auburn & Opelika
Fire divisions suited up in HAZMAT gear to train alongside
students during the drill.

Tornados, fires, flooding, active shooters, bomb threats, hazardous chemical spills, civil disturbance… all these, and more, are risk vulnerabilities faced by today’s public/private universities and colleges.

Campus emergencies involving natural disasters and/or man-made crisis are not new developments in the academic environment, but in the last decade, disasters have affected university and college campuses with disturbing frequency, causing not only death and injury, but also monetary losses resulting from classroom disruption and damages to buildings/infrastructure.

The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre claimed the lives of 32 people. In 2009, students were evacuated from a Central Michigan University building following a chemical spill in a lab where one person was injured. Hurricane Irene caused damage and flooding to five east coast universities in 2011, while the April 27 tornado outbreak wreaked havoc on Alabama campuses just five months earlier. A murder/suicide resulted in nine deaths at an Oregon community college in 2015, and in mid-2017, two separate fires caused mass evacuations and damage at Boston University.

Though disasters themselves are common, colleges and universities that practice massive disaster preparedness scenarios involving students, faculty, staff and outside agencies have just become more prevalent. The State University of New York College at Oneonta (SUNY) has been conducting emergency simulations annually for several years, including simulated power failures, heat waves, and suicide and terrorist attacks. According to the Daily Star, SUNY partners with local police and fire agencies and other first responders “to create drills that are as life-like as possible to best prepare students, faculty and staff.”

Though Auburn University has held disaster drills on campus before, this was VCOM-Auburn’s first experience with disaster simulation and training as part of student curriculum. VCOM is a private, non-profit Osteopathic Medical School, with a campus located in Auburn University Research Park. The college has two other campuses – one in Virginia and one in South Carolina – where disaster simulations and training have been familiar annual events since the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Disaster simulations give medical students a closer look at how the environment inside a hospital could be impacted during a mass casualty situation and what type of skills would be expected of them.

Bus crash scenario with victims
VCOM-Auburn students in theater paint played "victims"
of the first disaster scenario, a car crash and chemical spill.

The first scenario of VCOM-Auburn’s Disaster Drill Day was a wreck involving university vans and a truck carrying hazardous chemicals, resulting in a hazardous chemical spill. Training alongside VCOM-Auburn students during this first scenario were more than 10 local first responders from Auburn and Opelika Fire divisions, and the East Alabama Medical Clinic EMS. Several of them suited up in HAZMAT gear to survey the scene of the accident, get the chemical spill under control and then venture through a life-like decontamination station.

Nearby, “casualties” of the wreck were delivered to the triage station where medical students began to assess their injuries before having them transported inside the school where three different simulated emergency rooms had been erected. Here, the real challenge for the students began. Assessing the wounded, they were tasked with performing various medical procedures on their patients to include delivering a baby from a “casualty” who went into labor (this was completed on a simulation dummy); properly sewing up a flesh wound; and/or inserting an IV, among others.

Second-year VCOM-Auburn medical student Clayton Lester said the hands-on experience of the drill was eye opening for him. During the first scenario, Lester had the opportunity to apply a suture to a wound and to insert a chest tube on a patient.

“I’ve done medical missions before where I learned how to set up a clinic,” said Lester, who was also a graduate of Auburn University. “But this type of learning, early on in my career, has given me a glimpse of what I might expect to see during a real disaster. It was chaotic, but beneficial training.”

VCOM-Auburn Associate Dean for Simulation and Technology Glenn Nordehn, DO, said there is no perfect drill. “However, this was a great training opportunity for the students to use their skills to improvise as well as problem solve the unexpected,” Nordehn added. “The expectation is for the students to learn how to act and how to manage in a disaster situation.”

Serving as the first joint disaster-training event involving VCOM, Auburn University and outside first responder’s organizations, much went into preparing the most useful and realistic disaster scenarios…

Where University & Local Agency Disaster Preparedness Intersect

Mike Freeman with OA News Reporter
RMS Mike Freeman, pictured with a reporter from the
Opelika-Auburn News, was enlisted to plan the VCOM-
Auburn disaster scenarios.
 
RMS HAZMAT help students through decon tent

Members of RMS HAZMAT suited up to run the
"decontamination tent" for the first scenario.

Michael Freeman is a 28-year veteran of the environmental health and public safety industries, and has been employed with Auburn University’s RMS Department for more than 10 years. A former member of the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army, Freeman has worked in fire, EMS and law enforcement. As a member of RMS, Freeman is a certified HAZMAT technician, responsible for HAZMAT management, spill response and transportation, among other things.

In January, VCOM contacted Freeman, who had experience conducting tabletop-type drills and had helped to train local responders on HAZMAT specifics, to ask for his help planning disaster scenarios for the Disaster Drill Day event.

“VCOM needed eight hours of instruction for the event,” Freeman said. “They also had certain components their students needed that I had to work into the scenarios. For example, they needed a HAZMAT component, traumas, a mass casualty situation, decontamination and EMS-type training.”

Around these components, Freeman also determined how best to utilize local first responders and university first responders, to maximize training for all. For example, during the chemical spill portion of the first scenario, other members of RMS trained in HAZMAT management, refreshed their skills by suiting up in personal protective equipment and helping casualties through the decontamination station, while local first responders trained in HAZMAT were responsible for utilizing their skills to contain the spill. In addition, members of Campus CERT - groups of trained individuals who have volunteered to take an active role during campus emergencies - got a refresher in search and rescue procedures as part of the tornado strike scenario later that day.

“This was the first large-scale disaster simulation to be held at VCOM-Auburn and in conjunction with local agencies,” Freeman said. “We could have done this without the local agencies, but it would not have been as realistic. If you do not practice real-life scenarios, you will not be prepared."

Deputy Chief of Auburn Fire Division Matt Jordan said first responders do not get the opportunity every day to train for HAZMAT situations. “It’s good to go through the motions like this, and we’ll go back to the station and talk about what we could have done differently,” Jordan said. “Training like this with the university is a benefit for everyone and is the type of infrastructure we want to set up. We like knowing what our resources are.”

With the Disaster Drill Day event, Jordan said local agencies get to combine their training with the knowledge from Auburn University’s subject matter experts to perfect disaster response.

While the various scenarios were playing out on the ground throughout the day, second-year VCOM-Auburn medical student Mike Brisson had quite a different view from above. A part-time paramedic with EAMC, Brisson not only brought along an ambulance to be used as a prop during the event, but also his personal Phantom III drone, which he used to take pictures of and survey the disaster drill scene from the air.

Brisson, also an Army captain and Black Hawk pilot, said his role of the day was to test how applicable drone footage could be, not only to first responders on a scene, but also to medical student training. Drones have become popular allies to first responders in the last few years, being used to more quickly and efficiently survey accident scenes to provide data.

Students perform medical techniques

Inside the makeshift hospital, second-year VCOM-
Auburn students were tasked with using their
classroom learning to perform medical procedures on
the "victims."

“I can use this drone to get a better view of what type of hazardous materials have spilled,” Brisson said. “A drone can be sent in to survey a scene, like this chemical spill, ahead of first responders. I could see if the truck in the wreck was registered and determine what types of chemicals it was carrying. This type of information all allows first responders to safely prepare for and enter a scene without endangering their lives further.”

While Brisson’s drone provided invaluable footage for first responders to study, it was also broadcast on YouTube for other VCOM-Auburn students and administrators to watch as the events unfolded.

“It’s invaluable experience to offer these types of scenarios,” Brisson said. “From this vantage point, you get familiar with the entire picture of emergency care. To be able to integrate the medical school with community responders is invaluable training.”

Auburn University RMS is currently working on an official Drone Policy for the university as a result of increased drone usage on campus.

VCOM-Auburn marked Disaster Drill Day 2017 as a success and an important learning opportunity, and hopes to make it an annual event the school hosts going forward, possibly expanding involvement to the greater university community in years to come. To see footage of the April 28 event, click here.

 

Media Contact:  Kati Burns, RMS Communications & Marketing  |  334-844-2502  |  klb0095@auburn.edu

 

Auburn RMS Campus Fire Safety video named a “Pearls of Wisdom” contest winner
5/24/2017

 

Auburn University’s Risk Management & Safety Department (RMS) was recently named a winner in the United Educators (UE) 30th Anniversary “Pearls of Wisdom” video contest.

Member institutions of the UE were tasked in late 2016 with highlighting through a short video the innovative ways they have successfully reduced liability exposures on their campuses. Videos were judged on creativity and universal impact, or rather, their potential to teach others how to promote safer communities at their own institutions. Winners of the video contest received a $3,000 prize.

The winning video submitted by RMS featured the university’s first annual Campus Fire Safety Month campaign, part of a national awareness initiative created by the Center for Campus Fire Safety and recognized annually throughout the month of September. The video showed scenes from the department’s four-week series of fire safety activities, which included: A mock firefighter training obstacle course with the City of Auburn Fire Department; fire extinguisher training; informational campus booths; and a speech/documentary film screening given by Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, two survivors of the 2000 Seton Hall University dormitory fire.

Photos and snippets of videos shot on staff members’ smartphones were pieced together using Windows Movie Maker to form the more than six-minute final video, and RMS Safety & Health Programs Manager Chris Carmello was the voice behind the narration.

AU Campus Fire Safety Month bannerAccording to Safety & Health Specialist Jon Haney, who led planning for Auburn’s Campus Fire Safety Month, most college students living on their own for the first time have not had fire safety education since elementary school, and the goal of the campaign was to reach as many students as possible.

“Unfortunately, students do not always realize how quickly a fire can occur,” Haney said. “Our job is to educate them and the campus community, to provide them with the tools they need to prevent fires from happening. Every individual has to take responsibility for fire safety.”

Haney thanked RMS Executive Director Christine Eick, Associate Director Chris O’Gwynn and Carmello for putting together the video and for their support, along with other members of RMS and the students for participating and making the campaign a success. “It’s truly an honor to receive this recognition,” Haney said. “A year’s worth of planning went into making this awareness campaign happen, and to have it recognized in our first year just reiterates that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Planning for the 2017 Auburn University Campus Fire Safety Month is already underway. To see Risk Management & Safety’s winning Campus Fire Safety video, click here. Other winners of the UE “Pearls of Wisdom” video contest included Gonzaga University’s four-minute video on managing risks presented by campus activities and events.

Media Contact: Kati Burns, RMS Communications & Marketing Specialist  |  334-844-2502  |  klb0095@auburn.edu

Parkerson Mill Creek cleanup lends evidence to importance of keeping campus streams litter-free
5/24/2017

“Out-of-sight, out-of-mind” – this might be the best way to describe parts of Parkerson Mill Creek, one of Auburn’s natural resources, hidden by brush, discreetly meandering past the soccer, baseball and football fields and the Intramural Fieldhouse on the Auburn campus. Of course, this might also be the best way to describe the numerous amounts of campus litter that finds a way into the creek, tucked away beneath rocks in the slow-moving water of the creek bed and underbrush on the muddy banks…

Many of the university community walk past Parkerson Mill Creek on a daily basis, in a rush to get to one appointment or another, perhaps vaguely aware of its existence but unaware of the vital role it - and other small waterways just like it – plays in the sustainability of our precious drinking water resources.

This is the main reason Auburn University Risk Management & Safety’s Environmental Health and Safety Department annually hosts an on-campus cleanup of Parkerson Mill Creek for faculty, staff and students. RMS Environmental Health and Safety Technician Michael Freeman has been leading the event for almost 10 years now and has had a longtime passion for maintaining the earth’s water quality.

This year, less than 20 members of the campus community gathered on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and, wearing protective gloves and rubber boots, spent several hours filling more than eight sturdy garbage bags of litter gathered from Parkerson Mill. The clean-up area stretched from the Auburn Wellness Kitchen to the Jane B. Morrison Field. University units typically taking part in the cleanup include Navy ROTC., U.S. Coast Guard AUP, Alabama Water Watch, College of Agriculture, College of Engineering, Greek Life, Honors College, COSAM, Office of Sustainability and AU Facilities Management, among others.

“I just want to see more people on campus interested in this,” said Freeman, who was also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army. “Parkerson Mill Creek is listed as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for pathogens and sediment load. I feel that it is our duty and obligation to not only clean up the creek, but to also make people aware of the litter that ends up in our waterways from poor management of solid waste.”

“Clean water is a vital component of life, and we must be better stewards of this most precious natural resource.”

 

Unknown to many, streams play a critical role in providing clean drinking water by ensuring a continuous flow of water to surface waters and by helping to recharge underground aquifers. According to the EPA, approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely on these streams.

The Parkerson Mill Creek clean-up volunteers collected a number of interesting things from the banks and water that day, including orange and blue pom-poms with their ribbons embedded into the creek underbrush; sunglasses; a decorative eyeball; household cleaning instruments; Styrofoam; and a bale of rusty barbed wire.

Thomas Loxley, a Kentucky native and second-year Auburn graduate student in Biosystems Engineering, was among the volunteers and said, though he had helped with roadway clean-ups in the past, this was his first creek clean up. “I think this is a much bigger deal, and I wish more students would get involved,” Loxley said. “Litter in the water travels further and can have a greater negative impact. This is also a great way to give back to the campus.”

The next creek clean-up event will take place November 2017. For more information about Auburn University creek clean-ups, or to see how you can get involved, contact Michael Freeman at freemms@auburn.edu

 

Mike Freeman
Clean-up host Mike Freeman
finds a bale of rusty barbed wire in
Parkerson Mill Creek.

 

Student volunteer
Biosystems Engineering grad student volunteer Thomas Loxley looks for litter along the Parkerson Mill Creek.

 
     
Thomas Loxley, student

 

 

Group volunteers  

Thomas Loxley makes an odd find while gathering litter from Parkerson Mill Creek.

  Volunteers included members of RMS, the Office of Sustainability, Facilities Management and Auburn students.  

 

Media Contact: Kati Burns, RMS Communications & Marketing Specialist  |  334-844-2502  |  klb0095@auburn.edu 

RMS participates in SGA Town Hall, talks threat reporting & new student rental insurance
11/17/2016

SGA Town Hall panel
Representatives from various areas of campus participated in the Student Government Association's Town Hall Meeting on Nov. 15, fielding questions of concern from a crowd of more than 40 students. Photo Credit: Kelsey Prather.

Dining options, residence hall issues and campus safety were topics of concern during the Tuesday, Nov. 15, panel-style Auburn University Student Government Association (SGA) Town Hall Meeting held in the Student Center. This was the first panel discussion held by the SGA in a couple of years, and more than 40 students were in attendance.

Representatives from Auburn’s Risk Management and Safety (RMS), Tiger Dining, Parking Services, Housing and Residence Life, and Public Safety participated in the discussion, listening attentively to student concerns and giving updates on various campus projects of interest.  SGA Advisor Brad Smith said the purpose of the Town Hall was to give the student body a chance to voice their opinions to representatives of areas where they traditionally have concerns. A second Town Hall Meeting is planned for spring 2017 and will feature representatives from other areas of the campus.

SGA President Jesse Westerhouse led the panel discussion, reading from a list of previously submitted student questions the SGA had gathered from Auburn Answers. RMS Executive Director Christine Eick and Risk Management Specialist Holly Leverette represented RMS during the discussion.

Risk Management and Safety-related concerns arising from the discussion included the following:

  • On the topic of how the university handles campus hate crimes or bias, Associate Director of Public Safety Susan McCallister said the university does not tolerate hate crimes and that any such issues should be reported immediately to Public Safety.

    RMS Executive Director Eick also added that the university has a Threat Assessment Team in place to investigate such incidences. The goals of the Threat Assessment Team are to advise on incidents involving members of the university community who pose, or may reasonably pose, a threat to the safety and well-being of themselves or others. Any member of the university community who becomes aware of such a situation can report the matter to the team.

    To make a report to the Threat Assessment Team, call 334-844-5010 or email autat@auburn.edu.
     
  • On the topic of key issues faced by RMS or any updates, Eick mentioned the relatively new Student and Employee Renter/Property Insurance Program provided to Auburn students, faculty and staff through the Arthur J. Gallagher & Company. The program, designed specifically for college-related audiences, offers deductibles as low as $25, much less than a Homeowner’s deductible. The benefits of the policy includes such things as replacement cost valuation; flood and earthquake coverage; and limited identity theft expense coverage.

    “There are different levels of the policy that you can purchase, and it is very affordable,” Eick said. “We are always looking for opportunities to assist students in any way that we can.”

    Visit Student and Employee Renter/Property Insurance to learn more about why the program might be right for you or to purchase coverage.

    In other updates, Eick said RMS is also working on safety initiatives to reduce the amount of potentially hazardous chemicals used in labs on campus.
     

Other safety-related topics of interest during the panel discussion:

  • McCallister of Public Safety said that date-rape drug concerns are a topic of heavy interest from both students and parents alike. She said victims of date-rape drugs often fail to get the incident reported before the drugs have left their system. Educating students on the topic so they have a better awareness will be a priority going forward.
     
  • In regards to “community policing,” McCallister said that Public Safety is going through some changes, which will include the addition of more police officers from Auburn Police Department on campus. The officers will not be on a rotating schedule as before, however, but will be a staff dedicated specifically to the university. This will allow officers to get more familiar with the university community and to do more outreach.

SGA Town Hall Meeting, Nov. 15 - Risk Management & Safety to participate
11/9/2016

Representatives from Risk Management and Safety, Dining, Residence Life and Parking Services will participate in the SGA Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. in the Auburn University Student Center. Students will have the opportunity to learn more about these respective areas, and to voice any questions or concerns they might have.

For more information about the Town Hall Meeting, visit Auburn SGA on Facebook.

Meeting location:
Auburn University Student Center
255 Heisman Drive
Auburn, AL 36849

Official SGA Town Hall flyer