Logo: University of Southern California

BME Volunteer Plays Victim in Great So Cal ShakeOut

Practice run proved more beneficial than reading about the dos and don'ts
Claudia Melendez
November 18, 2008 — Earthquakes are for Angelinos as inevitable as traffic, and for Sandra Johns, born and raised in the City of Angels, it’s no different. But experiencing an early morning shake up is not the same as participating in the Great Southern California ShakeOut Drill, where thousands of people practiced what they should do when the “big one” hits.
Sandra Johns, a member of the Biomedical Engineering Department staff, acts out the part of an injured quake victim in the lobby of the Annenberg School for Communication during Nov. 13 Great So Cal ShakeOut.  Photo/Ivonne Romo

Johns, an administrative assistant in the Viterbi School’s Biomedical Engineering Department, volunteered to play a student victim in the drill.  She was made up to look as if she had been badly bloodied on the side of her head and had suffered a deep cut in her upper thigh.  Her tag read: “Student with symptoms of respiratory distress, over 30, awake and alert.” Lying in the lobby of the Annenberg School for Communication, one of the disaster drill sites, she was bandaged by other drill participants and taken away on a stretcher from the disaster area to a triage area at Cromwell Field.

“I think it was a good experience to see first-hand what could happen in a large magnitude earthquake,” Johns said. “Horrifying, to say the least.”

Johns said other volunteers were made up to imitate other types of injuries: a victim with a severed foot, ear or finger; people who had sticks and glass protruding from their bodies; and fatalities. 

“We were all coached as to how to act out our symptoms and pass out in the process,” Johns said.  “Once the rescue teams arrived, they would go to the victim and assess their symptoms and identify us with another tag for the triage area.  Since I was ‘awake and alert,’ I was asked questions, then they bandaged my head and I was taken by two rescuers to the triage area. 

“At that point a medical chart is started and you're asked more questions,” she continued. “I did notice spectators watching from outside Cromwell Field.  The Fire/Emergency Planning Team did a great job among all the other groups that helped out that day.”

Overall, Johns thought the exercise was “a great idea,” but she also thought that each building should go through its own fully staged disaster drill so that everyone can experience what could happen in a major earthquake. 

”It’s not the same when you just hear about it and see some pictures,” she said.   

The most important thing Johns learned during the drill:  Stay calm, stay in one place and see if you can help others. 

USC’s Great Southern California ShakeOut was part of a regional exercise held Nov. 13 on campus, which was designed to practice the university’s disaster medical response plan.  The goal of the drill was to coordinate the actions of all department operations centers, zone command posts and emergency response operations.