DUBAI // It seemed like the worst-case scenario. An empty baby car seat lays overturned on the asphalt. Men and women were sprawled motionless on the ground. A chalk outline was drawn around one body, and a pregnant woman, her face bloodied, was going into labour on the pavement, holding onto a young paramedic. Cars were strewn about, one of them mangled beyond description. The sombre scene was punctuated by the wailing of the ambulance siren and policemen counting the dead. The baby, it was later learned at a makeshift clinic, didn't make it. "Please help my wife!" one man yelled in pain as he struggled to get out of a crashed car. Then the media descended like vultures - broadcasters setting up on-site interviews with the police officers and pestering shocked triage patients to describe in detail their immense pain. Fortunately for everybody involved, the whole scene was an elaborate exercise. Dubai Police and the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) were in on it, supplying policemen and ambulances. The emergency staff were paramedic and pharmacy students at Dubai Women's College, and the journalists were media students and the casualties were faculty members. The aim was to train young Emirati women in handling major road accidents and mass casualties, as well as covering breaking news on the ground. "This is very relevant because the UAE is a bit of a disaster zone on the highways," said Howard Reed, the director of Dubai Women's College. "To build the awareness of the importance of seat belts, safe driving, car seats, all those things, is critical because even with the carnage that goes on on the roads most UAE nationals do not wear seatbelts. Most of our students do not wear seatbelts." The event was part of Gulf Traffic Week, a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of reckless driving, and comes only a week after the two year anniversary of Fog Tuesday, when a 200 car pileup clogged the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. Last week, poor visibility was blamed for another pileup that claimed the life of a bus driver and injured 40 in Jebel Ali.
The simulation came a week after the two-year anniversary of Fog Tuesday, when a 200-car pile-up choked the Dubai-Abu Dhabi motorway. Last week, poor visibility was blamed for another pile-up that killed a bus driver and injured 40 in Jebel Ali. The organisers wanted to highlight the often-deadly consequences of reckless driving, and to show the ability of young Emiratis to work through challenging situations. "It gives anybody that sees it an example that our students are doing real things," Dr Reed said. "They're not just looking for big management jobs with high salaries, they're doing practical things and learning practical skills. And they're good at it." The instructors said the students handled themselves well, rarely breaking character and clearing the scene in less than an hour. "The most important thing is to save people's lives, and they managed to move people to medical care in a good time," said Khaled al Baloushi, a paramedical graduate who was supervising the operation. As ambulances and police officers on motorcycles rode into the accident scene and set up a perimeter, the paramedics got to work, fitting neck braces and tagging the dead. "We have to turn her over," one paramedic said to her two colleagues as they stood over an unconscious woman lying face down. "On my count, one, two, three!" They turned her over and placed her on a stretcher. Officers standing by were directed by their supervisor to count the casualties and classify injuries. All the while, reporters gathered quotes for their stories, often sparking the ire of paramedics busy saving lives. "It was a very stressful situation," said Ghariba Mubarak, a second-year paramedic student who was on the scene. "In real life we need to deal with and react to these kinds of situations." "It's something unique that most Emiratis don't know about. It's also an exciting job and interesting because a lot of Emiratis don't like these kinds of jobs," Ms Mubarak said. "But in this generation we encourage them to take these kinds of jobs because the country needs them, not just to go to the office." The media were cited as the biggest distraction. But Reem al Falahi and Fatma Hatam, media students who were on a team filming interviews with patients and officials, had other agendas on their minds. They saw it as a learning experience to help Emirati women break into another unconventional field of endeavour. "As females, it was a challenge for us," Ms al Falahi said. The simulation made them more willing to continue in a media career, they said, though it was difficult to deal with demands that they stop filming, and the effort of carrying a camera in the afternoon sun. "It really encourages to do something like this in the future," she said. "It's a rare experience as an Emirati. Rarely do you see an Emirati female going out with a camera and filming.