Iowa State honors students learn disaster response during simulated tornado chelsea davis, isu news service, chelsead@iastate.edu

ISU Emergency Manager Clayton Oliver, right, keeps time as students in his honors seminar work to assist "victims" during a simulated disaster response inside a vacant Frederiksen Court apartment building on Oct. 27.

AMES, Iowa — A university apartment was turned into a simulated disaster area as Iowa State University students learned how to respond to and manage an emergency.

After nearly two years of pandemic response, Iowa State’s emergency manager, Clayton Oliver, wanted to bring his knowledge and experience to ISU students. This fall, Oliver is teaching an honors seminar, “You Are Your Own First Responder.” Students in Iowa State University’s Honors Program enroll in these one- or two-credit special classes as part of their requirements to graduate with honors. Seminars focus on wide-ranging topics that engage students in a high level of critical thinking and discussion.

Oliver’s disaster and emergency response experience includes power outages, severe weather, hazardous materials spills, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa State’s previous emergency manager retired in February 2020, about the same time that the university had to bring home more than 140 ISU students who were studying abroad in Italy and about one month before the pandemic brought campus to a halt.

Since then, Oliver and his Emergency Operations Center partners have been at the helm of Iowa State’s pandemic response.

It got Oliver thinking about other types of emergency response, particularly Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Kelly Schaefer, associate teaching professor of music and theatre, applies moulage to the face of Caden Backen, junior in software engineering, before the exercise.

“It teaches citizens how to be their own personal response system until first responders get there. Taking care of yourself and your neighbors makes a community more resilient. Maybe someday we’ll have people who are more prepared, and we’ll incrementally move the needle on living in a better, more prepared place.”

— Clayton Oliver, ISU emergency manager

Oliver and his wife took the training years ago because they wanted to be prepared in case of a disaster: “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. That’s the same for many others, he says, who want to help but don’t know how to do so safely and legally.

The seminar is built around the CERT program, including academic elements like studying a library of case studies and action reports from other disasters such as the 1993 Iowa floods and the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

So far this semester, students have learned about disaster medicine and stabilizing victims with Thielen Student Health Center staff; search and rescue and extrication with the Ames Fire Department; fire safety and suppression and recognition of hazardous materials with ISU Environmental Health and Safety; and disaster psychology for victims and responders with ISU Student Counseling.

Remy Braun, senior in mechanical engineering from Olathe, Kansas, enrolled in the seminar to learn about search and rescue – an aspect that the fire department handles when she’s responding to medical calls in her job as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for Mary Greeley Medical Center.

“It’s been very eye-opening,” Braun said of her job, which she started in May 2020. “You think as a civilian that you know what it’s like working with fire and police, but we see such a variety of calls on a daily basis.”

Participants in a simulated tornado disaster wear moulage while waiting to begin the exercise.

Hands-on training is key. On Oct. 27, Oliver took his class to 31 Frederiksen Court, which is vacant this academic year.

The scenario: A tornado has struck the area. Power to the building is knocked out, with only emergency lights available. There are bloody and screaming victims throughout the building.

The task: Assess the scene. Triage and treat the wounded. Extricate people trapped by structural collapses. Move immobilized patients. Extinguish fires. Comfort distressed survivors. Stabilize the scene until first responders arrive.

Students in an honors seminar help "victims" of a tornado during a simulated disaster response exercise.

All of this took place in 30 minutes. Afterward, Oliver and the students debriefed to understand what worked, what didn’t and what improvisations were successful that could be codified.

“For the majority of students, something like this would be their first exposure to traumatic scenes, even simulated. Classroom training is one thing, but engaging with someone with a severe injury and in immediate danger is different. When students can see that they’re able to settle people down and treat injuries, it gives them confidence in these skills.”

— Clayton Oliver

Created By
Chelsea Davis


Photos: Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University Video: Dave Olson, Iowa State University