Students act as victims in Orlando-area hospitals' disaster drills

Central Florida hospitals practice disaster preparedness exercises

ORLANDO, Fla. – Several hospitals in Orange, Seminole and Lake counties took part in a full-scale disaster preparedness exercise early Thursday.

Organized through the Central Florida Disaster Medical Coalition, the four-hour training drill included hundreds of students acting as victims who were treated at 15 different hospitals.

One of the hospitals was Central Florida Regional in Sanford, which is a level two trauma center.

"The key to making a disaster response go well is collaboration," CEO Wendy Brandon said. "We need to be in close contact with each other, so that we're not surprised and that we're best prepared to take care of the patient."

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Thursday's exercise simulated a chemical attack at a bus station in Orlando.  Hospital workers in Sanford were prepared to receive more than 40 volunteer victims.

One of those "patients" was Ashley Smith, who is studying nursing at Orange Technical College.

"During stuff like this, you really learn how you work together (and) how you stay calm," Smith said.

Hospital administrators said their staff also learn valuable lessons during the scenarios.

"Sometimes, it's something big -- that we need to change flow or we found a better way to do it.  And sometimes it's very small things (like) making sure we have plenty of water coming to the people who are working in the decontamination tent," Brandon said.

During the exercise, full operations at all hospitals remained in place, which means real emergency patients were also being treated.

Organizers said that after the exercise was completed, they would look at the results and make adjustments for future scenarios.

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