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Demos and disaster for Algonquin

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Texting and driving is a bad idea.

Even worse is doing it while transporting radioactive isotopes.

This is the scenario played out Friday morning at Algonquin College’s waterfront campus in Pembroke, as part of a disaster training exercise. Students from six programs including Police Foundations, Radiation Safety, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Practical Nursing, Social Service Worker, and Personal Support Worker took part in the event, which envisioned a traffic accident involving multiple casualties and the release of a radioactive substance.

During the exercise, the members of the different programs were working closely together, dealing with overlapping responsibilities as they tackled the same disaster scene. This included assessing and securing the scene, helping the injured and taking them to the nursing department for treatment, scanning for radiation leakage and decontaminating the area as needed, supporting the victims and their relatives in the wake of the accident, and conducting investigations.

Adding to the context of the scene were demonstrations by the Pembroke Fire Department of their extrication equipment, which was used to quickly turn a car into scrap metal, the presence of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Radiological Assessment Team, who brought with them their incident response truck and portable decontamination shower for a public display, while they also observed how the exercise unfolded.

Also on hand were the Ontario Provincial Police and the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service, who were also watching the exercise.

Dan Labelle, Algonquin College Police Foundations program co-ordinator, who was overseeing the exercise, said the extrication demonstration was already scheduled as part of Distracted Driving Month, an ongoing campaign to educate people on the hazards of texting and driving.

(The public can still pick up magnets which are part of the campaign from the Pembroke Fire Department.)

“This exercise was scheduled to go two weeks ago, but I decided to tie it in with this,” he said, the intention being to make the issue a bit more real to people.

Labelle said the event went well, being a big learning curve for the students of all programs as they learn to work together in a rapidly changing environment. The accident scene with injuries is taken charge of by police foundations, followed by the nursing students taking care of the injured. The discovery of radioactive isotopes brings a new context to it, and the radiation safety program to the forefront.

Sam Biggs, one of the radiation protection section leaders with CNL’s radiological assessment team, said it is great they get out to take part in such exercise, even only as observers. It allows them to increase awareness of what they do, plus watch how radiation safety students demonstrate all they have learned so far.

“We can identify any gaps in their training, and suggest improvements in techniques,” he said. It also shows the students from different programs how different agencies interact with each other during emergencies, a lesson they can carry forward into their careers.

Labelle said the CNL team will be helping with the exercise debriefing which would follow once everything wrapped up.

SUhler@postmedia.com