Emergency preparedness exercise to test medical students, first responders

GREENVILLE, SC – The University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and Greenville Health System (GHS) will host a community emergency preparedness exercise on Friday, Sept. 2.

This is the fifth year for the event, which uses realistic simulations of life-threatening events as an “exam” for first-year medical students but also to test the readiness of local emergency responders.

The Greenville med school was the first in the country to require first-year medical students to be certified as Emergency Medical Technicians as part of their training during their first year of school. Once certified, students spend twelve hours each month serving the community as EMTs – which makes them better doctors, said Thomas Blackwell, MD, FACEP, an emergency medicine physician who directs the EMT training program and is an assistant dean at the med school.

School officials have now worked closely with five other med schools on developing their own EMT components as required curricula.

This year’s exercise will run from 9 a.m-6 p.m. Friday at the USC School of Medicine, which is on the Greenville Memorial Medical Campus. Media are invited to attend the 11 a.m. drill.

Partners include Greenville City Police, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, Greenville County Emergency Management, Greenville City Fire and Greenville County EMS. More than 250 responders and volunteers are expected to take part, including 185 ‘patients’ with realistic-looking but simulated injuries such as lacerations, fractures, burns and gunshot wounds.

The drills, which change key features every year, frequently reflect situations drawn from the headlines. One of the changes this year is to transport the ‘patients’ to the Greenville Memorial Hospital Emergency Trauma Center for evaluation and treatment. Blackwell would not disclose additional changes in advance of the event in order to preserve the element of surprise for the EMT students.

The annual event is the brainchild of Blackwell, who is nationally known for his pioneering work in community disaster preparedness.

“EMT training provides students with basic clinical skills but also teaches them how to work as part of a healthcare team and how to communicate in tense situations,” said Blackwell. “Particularly now – when workplace and school violence is skyrocketing – we’ve an obligation to train our students and help strengthen our first-responder networks.”

“The world is a different place today,” said Blackwell. “It’s critical that individual and group preparedness initiatives must be considered, planned, practiced and implemented. Drills such as the ones conducted at GHS and the med school provide invaluable training opportunities for our response agencies and help improve their ability to handle such situations should they ever occur in Greenville.”


Because the exercise utilizes emergency vehicle sirens and may involve pyrotechnics and simulated gunfire, residents near GHS’ Greenville Memorial Medical Campus were given advance notification of the exercise. Anyone traveling or visiting the campus on Friday should be aware of the exercise in case they notice unusual activity. Traffic patterns will change for this exercise, and all motorists are cautioned to be aware of traffic changes and directional signs.

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