x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Disaster rehearsal test for students

Teams from Dubai Women's College take part in an emergency response drill as part of Gulf Traffic Week.

DUBAI // It seemed like the worst-case scenario. An empty baby car-seat was overturned on the asphalt. Men and women were sprawled, motionless, on the ground. A corpse was outlined in chalk. Nearby, a pregnant woman, her face bloody, was going into labour on the pavement.

Cars were tossed about, one mangled beyond description. The scene was punctuated by the wail of an ambulance siren and policemen counting the dead. The baby, it later was announced at a makeshift clinic, died. "Please help my wife," shouted one man as he struggled to get out of a crashed car. The media arrived. Broadcasters tried to interview police officers and accident victims. Reporters asked the injured to describe what happened.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the whole scene was simply a training exercise. Dubai Police and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) were in on it, supplying policemen and ambulances. The emergency staff were paramedical and pharmacy students at Dubai Women's College, the journalists were media students and the casualties were faculty members. The aim was to train the young Emirati women in how to handle major road accidents and mass casualties. "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 the roads most Emiratis do not wear seat belts. Most of our students do not wear seat belts." The event was part of Gulf Traffic Week, a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of reckless driving. 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 added. "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." kshaheen@thenational.ae