Emergency exercise aids Run to Fight preparedness

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

“Move back!” a focused Kaely Olmore commands the crowd of onlookers gathered around the scene, pushing the crowd back five feet.

“This guy is bleeding!” one of the onlookers bellows. “Help him! Help him!”

Demi Kolta and Kaely Olmore (from left) of the Clinical Skills Club and Mike McKenney, Assistant Professor of Athletic Training, hone their emergency response skills at an emergency exercise Tuesday morning behind GCU's Innovation Center at the 27th Avenue complex.

“We have two critical!” she continues as she assesses the situation.

A towering black Ford F-250 Super Duty is angled to the side, door flung open.

In front of it, a woman lies on the ground.

Abrasions. Unconscious.

A man, too.

Abrasions. Unconscious. His heart racing. His foot terribly injured.

Minutes later, American Medical Response Operations Supervisor Casey O’Brien runs up to the scene: “This one would be first, this guy secondary,” he directs the critical care team on site.

Just a couple of minutes more, and the mock scenario is over. It was one of three run-throughs of an emergency training that unfolded Tuesday morning behind Grand Canyon University’s 27th Avenue Innovation Center.

A long way from Band-Aids

It is the first Special Event Medical Emergency Exercise organized by GCU’s new Environmental Health and Safety Department, which chose to use Run to Fight Children’s Cancer as the special event to focus its emergency training on.

Victims at Tuesday's mock scenario were labeled with their injuries, such as "dizzy," "abrasions" or "tachycardia."

Not that Run to Fight, a 5K and 10K pediatric cancer-awareness event headed to campus March 16, was the only group involved in the exercise. The multi-department training doubled as a Homeland Security training for the campus and also served as an accreditation exercise for the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic.

Nine other groups, from GCU Public Safety to Event Services and the Sports Medicine Club, to name a few, also invested themselves in the 2½-hour mock scenario.

Special event emergency training has come a long way since GCU’s Sports Medicine Club volunteered at Run to Fight Children’s Cancer in 2017.

“One of (Sports Medicine advisor) Dr. David Mesman’s students said, ‘Hey, we want to volunteer for Run to Fight. We want to do Band-Aids and first aid,” recalled GCU Community Outreach Manager Debbie Accomazzo. “I said, ‘I hope ya’ll don’t get bored.’”

Far from it.

Just a week later, 59-year-old Perry Harris of Peoria, a race spectator, suffered a heart attack. He might not have survived if not for an athletic trainer and that group of Sports Medicine students and their advisors nearby. They were able to stabilize Harris before paramedics arrived.

That incident sparked the campus to be even more forward-thinking in its preparedness for emergencies at future events.

Exercise director Ryan Sand (left), Emergency Management Specialist in the Emergency Health and Safety Department, briefs Public Safety about what will play out during the mock scenario.

Crystal Westover, a senior athletic training student and a lead in the Sports Medicine Club, said the club at first saw Run to Fight as an opportunity to live out GCU’s mission of being of service to its neighbors.

“Here at GCU, it’s that global outreach,” she said.

But the club also looked into what might be improved for the athletes running that day with regard to their health and safety. What might it do beyond the Band-Aids and first aid?

As it turns out, the stakes would be higher.

“That first year we did this, we were expecting minor things. But then all the hard work the club had put together with the run paid off. We were able to respond to that emergency,” Westover said.

Run to Fight in 2018 took things to the next level, Accomazzo said. But this year, “this will be the biggest year yet for the Emergency Medical Plan. We have a lot of people gaining something from it.”

Various campus departments and organizations, along with representatives from American Medical Response, participated in the exercise.

This year’s Run to Fight marks the first time the Special Event Medical Emergency Plan will be implemented.

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Michael Engle said the department wanted to properly prepare for such emergencies and thought the mock exercise was the best way to do it.

“We wanted them to respond with best practices,” Engle said. “We wanted everyone speaking the same language and (knowing) that there’s an incident command system in place.”

As real as possible

Environmental Health and Safety organized Tuesday’s training exercise in a month rather than the six months it usually takes to put something like it together.

“We’re trying to make it as real as possible,” mock scenario director Ryan Sand, Emergency Management Specialist in the Emergency Health and Safety Department, told participants. “We’re trying to mess with your head a little bit.”

This is the first year GCU has organized a multi-departmental emergency medical training of this scope.

It was a small scene this time around, with about 30 participating: those acting as injured runners, students practicing their emergency medical care skills, GCU Event Services portraying a crowd of onlookers, Public Safety handling crowd control, Health and Wellness as evaluators, and American Medical Response personnel as first responders.

Run to Fight Executive Director Patti Luttrell, a former GCU Nursing faculty member, took her place during the exercise as one of the “incident command” personnel.

She quickly learned to use a walkie-talkie and piped into it to kick off the mock scenario: “This is an exercise. We have an incident at Camelback! This is an exercise.”

“It’s so important the commitment to safety and emergency preparedness. It’s so important to the success of any event,” Luttrell said. “We want to make sure our 3,000 folks on campus for Run to Fight are well taken care of. We appreciate the unity of GCU with the mock scenario, and for the students -- what a great experience. … The idea is to be prepared and not have to use it (the emergency plan).

Connie Colbert, Director of the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic, and Michael Engle, Director of GCU's Environmental Health and Safety, were on hand at the training.

Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic Director Connie Colbert supplied a nurse practitioner and triage nurse at the event to help GCU train. But her department is also seeking accreditation for the health center and saw the training exercise as the perfect time to do that.

“We have to do a different drill every quarter,” she said. “Plus, it (events like the mock scenario) builds community. I think we found out we have a lot more resources than we thought we ever had.”

Clinic Nurse Practitioner Bethany Whitson said she has practiced emergency drills before but not at GCU.

Ian Youngblood, a registered nurse at the clinic, added that this type of training – one coordinated between so many departments -- will help the University be prepared for those emergency situations.

“A situation can occur at any time,” he said. “This will just make things go a lot smoother.”

“That’s why we do the drills,” Whitson said.

A holistic response

Sand said the value of the emergency exercise was that it was a “holistic response” to an emergency involving everyone, from students to professors, Public Safety, Special Events, first responders and more. “To get that is absolutely needed,” he said, adding how the mock scenario was “one of the best experiences in my career.”

Demi Kolta, who graduated from GCU in April with a biology degree (pre-physician assistant emphasis), said after the training, “I was able to stay calm. … But it’s interesting to see that you know things, but also you forget different things. It takes a lot of teamwork.”

Kaely Olmore, a junior pre-physician assistant major, said she couldn't believe she yelled at the crowd during the exercise.

“I couldn’t believe I yelled at the crowd,” said Olmore, a junior pre-physician assistant major and a lead in the Clinical Skills Club, a club in which students learn triage, suturing, emergency medical care and more to prepare for medical careers.

Environmental Health and Safety’s Michael Engle, clipboard in hand, saw Olmore take charge. He was thrilled.

“The safety culture we’re trying to create at GCU is where everyone is empowered,” he said. “That’s exactly what she did. We’re all empowered to say, ‘Hey, that’s NOT safe. That’s where we’ve got to get to, where we are all looking out for each other. These exercises help to reinforce that.”

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


What: Run to Fight Children’s Cancer 2019

When: March 16. The 10K starts at 7 a.m., the 5K at 7:45 a.m. and the quarter-mile Cancer Survivors Walk at 9 a.m. The post-race festival will feature a vendor expo, arts and crafts, and other activities.

Where: GCU campus

Cost: $45 for the 10K and $35 for the 5K for registrations completed today (its $50 and $40 afterward). The Cancer Survivors Walk registration is free and open to cancer survivors of all ages.

Benefits: Children’s Cancer Network and Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Host sponsor: GCU

Grand presenting sponsor: Pono Construction

Register: www.runtofightcancer.com. Online registration is open until midnight March 15. Race-day registration will be available between 5:30 a.m. and the start of each run.

Information: Patti Luttrell, 480-398-1564 or [email protected] 


Related content:

12 News: “GCU students honored for saving man’s life at charity race”

AZFamily: Valley dad thanks college students for helping to save his life

GCU Today: “Families Stand Strong at Run to Fight Night”

GCU Today: “She’s a 7-year-old gymnast and cancer survivor”


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