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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Disaster City from the ‘victim’ point of view

Photo by Tanner Garza
Disaster City

To give a sense of the importance of Disaster City exercises, consider the fact that a group of first responders set to train at Disaster City Saturday were sent with their training exercise equipment to help out with the earthquake in Nepal. 

Responders like Texas Task Force I and Utah Task Force I who train 10 minutes down the road from campus are the same men and women who save lives in real disasters like the one in Nepal that has killed more than 1,300 as of Sunday evening. Likewise, they are the people that citizens will look to when disaster strikes the United States. 

Brian Smith, training manager at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, said representatives from the United Nations and Federal Emergency Management Agency attended the event. Smith also said there was talk of holding the exercises four to five times a year. When asked how Disaster City was able to recruit more than 100 volunteers to play victim for this exercise, Smith said, “This is Aggieland.” 

Among the crowd of volunteers, a number of whom were clad in A&M shirts, were The Battalion’s assistant managing editor, Jennifer Reiley; news editor, Lindsey Gawlik; and managing editor, Aimée Breaux. Here’s their take. 

Jennifer Reiley 

As a mock victim, the extent of what I expected was disaster makeup and some calling out for help. But lying down in the bottom of a rubble pile for a few hours gave me a tiny taste of what it might be like to be an actual disaster victim.

While it wasn’t painful — all the injuries were painted on and we were supplied safety gear — at times it still felt like I truly was trapped in the small, rocky corridor lit by a few openings above. I would think, “Someone has to rescue us soon or we won’t get out,” only to remember it was a simulation and I could leave anytime I wanted. Other times, when I looked down at the fake injuries painted on my hand, I could almost imagine the injury being real and I would start thinking about what I would have used to bind it.

Twice, a crew of first responders came and spoke with us, trying to gauge our injuries and the surrounding area to see if they could rescue us. We were placed in the hardest-to-reach area of the pile, so twice the teams went away to plan a strategy. I know this sounds a bit dramatic, but even though I could leave, the hope of finally being rescued and out of the rubble faded with their leaving footsteps. 

What I was able to learn from volunteering was how much faith disaster victims have to put in first responders and outside forces. My character was meant to be at the bottom of that pile for 36 hours. It was difficult to handle three and a half. 

Without first responders who can secure a disaster area, people would be lost, emotionally and physically. I can’t imagine what it’s like in a real disaster, with the fear and uncertainty constant. But I was glad for the opportunity to be placed in a disaster scenario, even while knowing I walked away at the end of the day easily able to wash off the blood and broken bones.

Lindsey Gawlik 

I was pretty excited to get to check out Disaster City from the belly of the beast as a mock victim. After about 10 minutes of getting some nasty-looking fake cuts and protruding bones applied by a makeup artist, a TEEX employee took Jennifer and me down to a rubble pile where, after crawling through a tight crawl space and getting completely caked in mud, we sat for three and a half hours. 

The first hour wasn’t bad. Every time the rescuers came by for the training exercise, they would try to assess our situation, asking how many of us there were and what our injuries were. The first time this happened I felt really silly. I’m not an actress and haven’t so much as been in a play since 5th grade. 

After the second hour, a stiff neck and a close encounter with a centipede, it felt like we were actually trapped and my calls for help became semi-serious.

The worst part of it was the boredom. At one point I started singing songs just to pass the time and Jennifer had to jokingly remind me that the victim description I was given at the beginning didn’t include an “altered state of mind.”

After crawling out, Jennifer and I went through the military decontamination showers. It felt pretty realistic and, despite wearing a swimsuit, I felt open and exposed to the world. 

All around we could tell the first responders were trying their hardest to tend to us as quickly as they could. Some of the men and women looked like seasoned pros. Others with young fresh faces looked like they may have recently become first responders. Seeing them work with people the way they did gave me yet another reason to respect what these men and women do.

I came to understand how important it is for first responders to practice with real people — to be able to hear a human voice, deal with a person face-to-face and practice rescuing techniques on living human bodies. I felt honored to be a volunteer, to be someone who helped these men and women advance their first responder skills and I encourage all Aggies and members of the community to volunteer at Disaster City as well. 

Aimée Breaux

My experience with Disaster City was kind of the worst-case scenario. I was third in line, decked out in what I call zombie make-up before I got effectively bumped to the bottom of the mock-victim list. 

Utah Task Force I, the group scheduled to rescue my group, was delayed for reasons out of its control, and I spent four hours in an office doing nothing until I had to leave. Effectively, I was of no use to Disaster City, and quite frankly, going was a waste of my time. 

Still, I will try to volunteer for Disaster City in the future — and I think you should, too. 

My experience was not the norm, but if you go, be open-minded. If you are lucky, volunteering is a matter of setting aside four hours, but I recommend clearing your schedule for the day. You will have the option to leave when your shift is over regardless of whether or not responders have had the chance to practice by saving you, but stay if you can. 

And above all, keep up the positive energy. It’s fun to get the zombie make-up and be mock-saved, but you’re really there so that the task forces can practice. 

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