Simulated Disaster Event Offers Profound Experience For Students

disaster day cadet

A Texas A&M University student portrays an explosion victim at the Health Science Center’s ‘Disaster Day,’ a simulated disaster event.

At the last Disaster Day simulation, a Texas A&M cadet portrayed an explosion victim so convincingly, that tears well up in Chelsea Knutson’s eyes when she recalls it. “His performance was worthy of an Oscar,” the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing student remembers.

It’s apparent when she describes it that although the annual mass emergency training event for medical students is a simulation, with hundreds of volunteers acting and wearing makeup to appear injured, the experience has profound effects on participants.

“I remember a student caring for him and it seemed so real,” Knutson says. “This experience has a huge impact on students and that’s what it’s all about.”

It was her own participation as a simulation patient, in fact, that first inspired Knutson, a 2012 Texas A&M Biomedical Sciences graduate, to pursue a career in nursing.

She joins fellow senior level nursing student Natalie Hamblin, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Allied Health from Texas A&M in 2012, as a Disaster Day incident commander for this year’s event, which will be at Central Baptist Church in College Station on Thursday, March 20. Senior-level nursing students Samantha Hoover and Layne Schickedanz will also serve as incident commanders.

“Disaster Day is a chance for students to practice their skills in a safe environment,” Hamblin explains.

“It’s organized chaos,” laughs Knutson, adding that the simulation teaches students to work under extreme pressure.

Exactly what kind of “disaster” will be simulated is kept under wraps until the event starts, the students explain, because as in real life, the nature of a disaster is unknown until it happens.

disaster day crowd shot

Past Disaster Day simulations have included a structure collapse, explosion, fire, tornado and hurricane. The nature of the next disaster is kept secret until the event begins.

In past years, simulations have included a structure collapse, explosion, fire, tornado and hurricane.

Disaster Day will not only include students from the College of Nursing, but also medicine, pharmacy and veterinary medicine students from Texas A&M and nursing, radiology, physical therapy and EMS students from Blinn College.

Last year’s event included more than 300 “patients;” they work either a four-hour morning or afternoon shift, or the whole day and receive a free lunch. “We are getting more and more volunteers each year,” Hamblin states. “This year we are hoping for 278 volunteers for each shift.”

First-year nursing students serve as patients rather than as medical personnel because, “This allows them the experience of being on the receiving side as a patient and next year they’ll participate as nurses. It’s great to have experiences on both sides of care,” Knutson explains.

Community members wishing to volunteer should email

Hamblin says simulations such as Disaster Day are invaluable for students because if such a mass emergency does occur, “they can say “˜I’ve already experienced this and I’m ready.’”

Find Disaster Day on Facebook at


Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University; 979-845-5591,

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