By: Janelle Walker
Elgin Courier-News

Just before a planned school assembly, the clouds dark and an announcement is made over the school loudspeakers to take shelter.

But a tornado hits Elgin and one of the city’s high schools.  Flying grass and debris rips through the school’s gymnasium.  With tree limbs and power lines down all over, it is up to the school staff and students to treat the wounds they can at the school until emergency responders arrive.

That is the disaster scenario that Karen Flanagan, the Elgin Police Department’s Citizen Emergency Response Team coordinator, presented over the past two months at the Dream Academy at the Gifford Street School.Flanagan usually teaches adult volunteer classes at the police department, getting residents trained to help police in times of disaster.  This year, she decided to reach out to all of the Elgin high schools and middle schools through their school resources officers to see if they would like to get students trained.

Kathy Schreiner, the School Resource Officer at Gifford Street High School, responded immediately, as did the physical education and health teacher Angelo D’Orio, Flanagan said.

Flanagan held two classes for all of the schools 67 students – both in middle and high schools – to get them familiar with  emergency first aid.  That followed with a review of the material but was capped off by an actual disaster drill in the school gymnasium on Tuesday.

Volunteers – adults and some students – received some serious-looking but artfully fake injuries.  Then, the students came in and practiced what first aid they can give those victims in times of emergency.

Nicole Genge, 16, was one of the students assigned to be a team leader during the disaster drill.

“She did great leadership with the middle schoolers today,” said Vice Principal Aaron Butler.

“(Flanagan) let us do our own thing, and let us lead after splitting us into groups,” Genge said.  “I kind of took charge,” of making sure all the volunteer victims got aid, she added.

It was a little intimidating at first, but she and her group quickly remembered what they had been taught – check the victims’ airways, check for injuries, and check to see if they are in shock, she said.

Flanagan didn’t give the group typical first aid supplies.  Instead, she gave the students things they might find in the building to treat wounds – ripped up clothes, paint brushes, garbage cans, diapers and water glasses.

The paint brushes became emergency splints, the garbage cans were used to put up the victim’s legs if they were in shock, and diapers became bandages for bloodied arms and legs.

In a real-life disaster, Flanagan said, emergency responders would be on their way.  But there are times that those on the scene who can render aid can keep victims alive until responders get to the scene.

Students, she said, might be the only people available after a bus crash, at home in cases of a fire or a cooking accident, or other emergency.

“Yes, call 911 and get them to the hospital, but in the meantime you can stop the bleeding,” Flanagan said.

Many of the students said they think having at least an understanding of what they could do in an emergency would help them be calmer and willing to help.

“I think I could go to a scene and help people out,” said Rodrigo Arroyo, 16.  “I have a better sense of what it is I would need to do.”

He also found that staying calm and not rushing or getting panicked in an emergency would probably help – what they learned by doing the drill Tuesday.

“You have to stay calm and think about what you should do,” he said.

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