International experts, U.S. military members, and hundreds of volunteers join Samaritan's Purse to hold a large-scale disaster simulation
Galip cradled her head in her hands as she lay in the grass, unable to pick herself up. A massive earthquake had hit Istanbul, Turkey five days before, leaving her without a home.
She was led to a large stadium in the city for protection and care, but then an aftershock struck Istanbul. Concrete and steel fell everywhere and hit Galip in the head. She was bleeding from the wounds on her face and was traumatized.
Kelly Sites, medical officer on a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) for Samaritan’s Purse, found her and helped lead her to a safe area where she could receive treatment. Sites pressed gauze against Galip’s wound and told her to hold it stable. As Sites knelt down beside her she recited Psalm 23 in a prayer.
“She said Jesus would give me peace and prayed for help for my family,” Galip said. “It was just what I needed. She came back twice to check on me.”
Meanwhile, DART logistics officer, David Torres, brought Galip’s nephew to her so he could hold her hand while waiting for transport to the nearest hospital.
Although Galip’s wound looked real, she was actually covered in fake blood and was a volunteer actor in the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Training Simulation that took place at Camp Bethelwoods in York, S.C.
Althea Gaskin rode in on a bus from the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Charlotte to play the role of Galip for the day. She was one of 246 “disaster victims” on Saturday who were either professional actors or volunteers.
The six-day disaster training began on April 22 and culminated with the large-scale simulation on April 27. It was designed to improve our ability to help whenever crises happen around the world.
“The simulation was about training people and expanding our capacity to respond,” said Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs for Samaritan’s Purse. “Our goal was to give these DART members the opportunity to get their hands dirty and keep their skills fresh. Training like this could mean the difference between life and death for those we serve when real disasters come.”
It was the first intensive graduate level humanitarian aid course designed and implemented by practitioners for practitioners. At the end of the week, the 55 DART members received three university course credits towards a master’s degree in public health through Liberty University, and the medical professionals received continuing education units or continuing medical education.
“With the doctors attending, it gives us more specialized capacity,” Isaacs said.
The week included lectures by university professors and leading experts in international crisis response, such as Andrew Natsios, executive professor at Texas A&M University and former administrator for the United States Agency for International Development.
“All NGOs should do these kinds of courses,” Natsios said. “It means people will have a better understanding of the work they are doing and the technical means to accomplish it.”
The graduate school-level classroom lectures were followed by field exercises and live full-scale simulations with actors based on a fictional earthquake in Turkey. The three live exercises focused on practicing skills in needs assessment, a food distribution, and triage.
One critical need during a crisis is responding to malnutrition in children. During the field exercise for this portion of the training, the Disaster Assistance Response Teams practiced assessment of 12 young volunteers to determine their nutritional needs.
“I think it’s amazing what Samaritan’s Purse is doing here,” said volunteer actor Michelle Hoyt, who’s sons, Reid and Rhett, were two of the youngsters who participated in the nutrition field exercise. “I’m glad that my children get to have a piece of that experience. It’s an opportunity for them to serve other children like them in the world who are in need.”
The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) exercise included building a mock latrine. The design was evaluated by Peter Wallis, UNICEF WASH cluster coordinator and USAID/OFDA WASH technical adviser.
In the evenings, the teams visited one of four different site demonstrations to get hands-on experience with field hospitals, community water filtration systems, food distribution, and latrine construction.
The entire week ended with the two-hour live simulation on Saturday where Trauma by Design and the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management came in to do moulage—the art of doing make-up to make realistic-looking injuries.
“This is so important,” said Linda Adye-Whitish, leader of Trauma By Design, a company that specializes in injury simulation. “It makes a world of a difference in these types of training exercises.”
Teressa Coleman, who lives in Charlotte and has been acting in plays and musicals since 1980, played a victim with an eye injury on Saturday.
“It really means a lot to me to be able to help,” she said. “I love Christ so much and for Him to allow me to be able to do what I love and still help people is phenomenal.”
While some of the DART members had never witnessed a real, massive medical emergency like the one simulated on Saturday, others had some previous experience.
Linda Mobula, internal medicine physician and current student at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the simulation was incredibly realistic.
“When I was in Haiti, we encountered multiple accidents very often where sometimes dozens of people were injured and we had to respond and provide medical care,” Mobula said. “And I think the setting during this training was very realistic, and I was really impressed at how well the moulage team prepared the volunteers. It was also very emotional. The volunteers were great at taking the role seriously. The way they acted evoked emotions in me and reminded me of previous experiences dealing with casualties in the field. They did an excellent job.
I think those various experiences and combining that with what I learned here will make me a much better public health professional and clinician and will make me more apt to respond to disasters in the future. So I am very thankful to Samaritan’s Purse for this opportunity.”