Disaster simulation strikes Toronto

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Disaster simulation strikes Toronto
April 02, 2015

Centennial College hosts mass casualty simulation exercise

The room was dark with a red siren serving as the only source of light. Overheard were frantic calls for help interrupted by the sound of a wailing baby. Suddenly, the door is flung open and firefighters come streaming into the room, in desperate search for survivors. The building had been struck by a tornado. It’s so terrifyingly real.

This is a simulation. Please do not call 9-1-1.


Photo: A firefighter and paramedic take care of a survivor.

On Saturday, March 28th, Centennial College hosted a large-scale disaster simulation exercise on its Morningside Campus in Scarborough. The setting was the fictional Volda Sports Games (similar to the upcoming Pan Am/Parapan Am Games), which takes place in Toronto in July during a record heat wave and following a tornado.

Simulation is the imitation of some real thing, state of affairs or process. When used for health professions education, simulation can encompass a range of activities that share a broad but common purpose: to improve the safety, effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare services.

Occupying many floors of the Morningside Campus, the simulation exercise featured three separate but associated events: 1) a children’s party in an apartment building; 2) an international soccer match between Brazil and Argentina; and 3) a drug-fuelled all-night concert.

The exercise was absolutely massive in scale


Photo: Centennial's simulated hospital is overwhelmed with activity.

Approximately 450 people participated in the 3-hour simulation event. The participants—most of whom were students—were able to experience firsthand realistic disaster conditions, forcing them to utilize important communication and problem-solving skills that they wouldn’t normally experience in the classroom. The participants represented many different occupations and professions: from first responders to social workers to hospital staff to media to emergency centre operators.


Photo: Paramedics provide care to heat wave survivors.

“In healthcare we by nature train to take care of one patient at a time,” said Dr. Laurie Mazurik, the event's lead organizer. "Sometimes we are so focused on this we miss the big picture, meaning we don’t see how our consumption of resources may adversely affect the care of another patient. This exercise awakens you to begin to see this.”

It was easy to get lost in the “realness” of the experience


Photo: Commotion breaks out in Emergency Operations Centre.

The simulation exercise was an unpredictable experience that tested the skills and patience of participants. For example, during a simulated meeting in the relatively calm Emergency Operations Centre, the relative peace was suddenly interrupted when angry citizens burst into the meeting. This encounter led to an already stretched police force being called in to address the situation.

The simulation was unique in the number of settings involved. In addition to the three separate events, there was also a simulated hospital—overwhelmed with activity—as well as a family resource centre. The Campus’ hallways served as streets, with police officers in pursuit of drug-addled ravers.


Photo: Patients wait in Centennial's simulated hospital.

“I’m happy to be a part of this event,” said Leslye So, a firefighter who helped oversee scenario safety. “The simulation involved many different professions, including first responders and hospital staff. It’s a lot of fun and allows participants to see how everyone works together.”

Increasing interest in simulation activities

Event organizers hope the simulation exercise will increase interest in multi-patient and health system simulation. They would also like to see more healthcare mentorship—involving high school, college/ university, and practicing professionals—as well as interprofessional collaboration as a result of the event.


Photo: A police officer tries to soothe survivors.

Video coverage of the event has since been posted on the CBRNE Collaborative website. View here >