The author and her wound
Don’t worry, there wasn’t a zombie invasion on campus last Friday. The Office of Emergency Preparedness conducted a campus-wide exercise called “The Art of Moulage” on the morning of June 24th to determine the readiness of UC Berkeley if there was a massive disaster. Police were at the ready and volunteers staffed triage stations. The scenario? A big earthquake had shaken the campus, causing buildings to fall, labs to malfunction and catch on fire, and general mayhem.
I was one of the victims.
My friend and fellow grad Shanti forwarded the email call for volunteer “victims” to me a couple of weeks ago and I thought, why not? I wasn’t really all that sure what to expect, but they had free breakfast–always a bonus for graduate students. The very nice team of ”simulation technicians” from California State Chico handed out symptom cards and we were instructed how to behave and what symptoms to describe to our would-be rescuers. There were various injuries available, all the way from minor confusion and panic to one guy who had his arm severed, complete with squirting blood! Shanti wanted something gruesome as she was having office hours later in the day, but she ended up with chemical burns in her eyes and lungs. It came out looking a bit like overdone 1980s makeup. I waited for a while to hear all of the injuries available, so by the time I finally picked one, all of the major burns and facial wounds were claimed by other volunteers. I ended up with a card that described “cuts and bruises to the neck and shoulders” and to act “stunned and confused.” I thought I could handle that.
I was warned to wear something that I didn’t mind getting a bit dirty, so the simulation technician applied fake bruising to my face, neck and shoulder, and an open wound made out of plastic. She was finished in about five minutes and me and Shanti went to find some help for our ”injuries.” We had to have a backstory, so I decided that I was at my desk, working on my dissertation when the earthquake hit. Large books fell off the shelves and hit my head, but I got out of the building pretty fast. I was relatively well off, considering there were people with major burns all over their bodies wandering around.
A volunteer gets treated for his wounds
When I got to the triage station I was examined by several volunteers, who took my heart rate and asked me a few questions. I tried to act a bit disoriented without signaling a major brain injury, but after determining that I was pretty much okay (except for the cut, which they bandaged) they made me lay down anyway. So I was laying on a cot next to the Chemistry building under a silver space blanket for about half an hour. There were several “victims” that arrived earlier than I did, and who were much worse off. Still, they were just put under space blankets while we waited for transport to a hospital. It turns out that the other victims had been waiting for up to an hour and a half, and the volunteers who were medically trained frankly told us that they would have been dead. Yikes!
Another young man wandered in, disoriented, burned, and calling for his girlfriend–some of the volunteers were really good actors! When the triage staff tried to help him, he fake vomited all over the unfortunate undergraduate who was in front of him. The simulation technicians had provided some of the volunteers with a horrible smelling bag of parmesan mixed with lemon juice and left to stand for a few days. It was truly horrible stuff. The vomiting volunteer kept trying to leave to find his girlfriend, so the triage staff had quite a hard time trying to keep him calm and stationary enough to examine his wounds.
So as the exercise wound down, the volunteer-victims chatted with each other and evaluated the efficacy of the campus response team. While this wasn’t truly a disaster, the campus had a fairly mixed response to the exercise. I received more than adequate treatment, while the badly burnt victims next to me died from their wounds while waiting for transport to the hospital. Shanti, blinded and coughing from exposure to chemicals, had a difficult time getting the response team clued in to how horrible her injuries were, as there were not many exterior clues. The exercise certainly made me wonder how UC Berkeley would handle a real, full-scale disaster.
If anything, participation in the Art of Moulage made me wonder about my own preparedness in the very real event of a large earthquake. My office is in an earthquake-reinforced building, but I think I’ll move my desk away from the towers of books that surround me.