A pseudo-zombie apocalypse hit Center City Monday.  It wasn't for the filming of a new movie or a costumed bar crawl. It was part of a scenario meant to teach health educators from around the country how to run clinical simulation labs for training new health-care workers.

The weeklong certificate program in clinical simulation at Drexel University always starts with a scenario of a mass causality event. In the past, that has meant acting out a chemical tanker explosion or the bombing of a bus at the Liberty Bell. This year, organizers decided to try something a little different.

Zombies.

"This was a zombie apocalypse,” said Bill Ochester, a Ben Franklin impersonator and “standardized patient” who donned black and white face paint and tattered clothing early Monday morning to play the part of a zombie.

He was one of a handful of undead who crawled into body bags to lay in wait for a participant to approach, looking to identify bodies as they had been instructed.

"They were sent in to look at people in the morgue, and identify them, as they looked and opened the body bags and looked at us, we came to life and started acting like zombies,” Ochester said. “Brains… brains! That's all, (it’s a) very simple script.”

The nurses had to assess and treat their patient mannequins while fending off the undead searching for brains (cherry Jell-O) and the threat of the infectious disease they carried-–the fictitious Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome.

If the nurses were thrown off by the bizarre scene, organizer Carol Okupniak said that was the point.

"They were completely confused, they were frustrated, they didn't know where things were,” Okupniak said. “That is exactly what we wanted to accomplish."

Okupniak is director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Clinical Simulation and Practice and assistant professor in the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions. She said the goal was to show the nurses what it is like to participate in a simulation as a student with no idea what to expect. The message: careful planning and student preparation are key. She hopes they take the lesson back to their home institutions.

"Provide an orientation for your students so they know where everything is, give them just enough information, let them be prepared,” Okeupniak said.

Okupniak got the idea for the zombie apocalypse from a tongue-in-cheek zombie-themed disaster preparedness campaign the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched this spring.

During the debriefing session afterward, participants talked about what they learned and how to improve upon the simulation for use at their own institutions.

Mary Beth Carpiniello from Pace University in New York said the simulation was a bit weird, but still useful in teaching teamwork, leadership, and communication in a disaster situation.

"It was a little far out, over the top, but I think it immersed us in simulation and made us aware of how we can use it to teach nursing students,” Carpiniello.

 


Your thoughts: We may not have to fight off zombies, but how prepared are you for a real emergency? What do you keep in your "go bag." (Not sure what a "go bag" is?) What steps have you taken to be ready for emergency situations? How are you helping your family, friends or neighbors prepare? Share your thoughts with fellow readers in the comments below.