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Las Cruces High students respond to major ‘disaster’

Ciliana Salaiz, center, gets treated for fake head and facial wounds after a simulated bombing at Las Cruces High School, part of a real-world learning experience. (Las Cruces Sun-News)

A beautiful morning turned into a mock crisis situation for the students of Las Cruces High School on a recent Friday.

For an hour and a half, the practice football field behind the school turned into a major crime scene as students were involved in simulated car bomb attacks. The explosions injured nearly 200 students. Another 500 students became nurses, crime scene investigators and trauma counselors responding to the incident.

The purpose of the simulation is to give students an idea of what a real-world disaster event could be like and how they could use their skills to handle it, said Jo Annna Singer, a LCHS teacher and one of the organizers.

“I hope they learned that there’s a lot of truth in what we did …,” Singer said.

The program was part of the Health and Human Services Academy at the high school where students learn foundational career skills in law, education and pre-nursing, said Guadalupe Castillo, a LCHS teacher and the second organizer.

Castillo said the idea came about in July, when she and Singer wanted to give the students real-world training. Throughout the first semester of the school year, students learned terminology and how to deal with certain scenarios that would help them be successful in the simulation.

Two simulations – or mock car bombings – happened simultaneously.

Students who were studying medicine became search-and-rescue teams and triage teams, practicing bandaging patients and using CPR. Those in law took in police reports, studied the crime scene and compared fingerprints. And those in education worked with patients who may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Triage, transport and on-site morgue sections spread out on the track, as well as a law enforcement and therapy tents.

“A lot of our kiddos chose a pathway. Some know they really want to do that, some just need a little bit of experience and if they change their mind, they change their mind,” Castillo said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn what they want to do outside of high school.”

To help students, volunteer staff from MountainView Regional Medical Center, Las Cruces Fire and paramedics directed students on how they should be tackling the situation in front of them and when to let go and move on.

“We’re helping students figure out each casualty and if they don’t have the tool they need to deal with it, what else they can use,” said Ruth Viegas, emergency room director for MountainView.

For example, one of the victims could not see due to blood in the eyes. Nothing in the medical bag could help, so Viegas suggested the students find a water bottle to rinse out the patient’s eyes.

Spc. Jason Rice, a National Guard recruiter, directed the search and rescue crews. He said he was tasked with creating chaos, which he did by yelling at the students about what they were doing wrong – such as incorrectly putting the injured victims next to the “dead” students in the morgue.