Earthquake-themed mock disaster serves as journalism practice at UTM

Earthquake-themed mock disaster serves as journalism practice at UTM
When nearly 200 students from 26 universities descended on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin Thursday, they became a part of one of the largest mock disaster undertakings in West Tennessee.
“What started as a small idea mushroomed into what we were told Friday night was the largest scale disaster exercise ever to take place in West Tennessee and possibly the largest that has ever taken place in the state,” said Tomi Parrish, president of the 2012 Southeast Journalism Conference and journalism instructor at UT Martin.
The Southeast Journalism Conference is a three-day conference that features competitive journalism contests designed to test students’ abilities in areas such as news writing, radio reporting, photojournalism, public relations and more. Parrish and several UT Martin students initially came up with the idea to create a mock disaster for the competitions that would give participants the chance to report on real-world like events.
When they partnered with Weakley County Emergency Management last summer, the competition grew to encompass several mock disaster sites in Weakley County based on an earthquake theme that would also serve as a major disaster exercise for local EMS workers.
One site featured a school bus and several cars at the base of a bridge, simulating a pancake collapse of a bridge from an earthquake. Around 30 volunteer victims helped to simulate the disaster as students were able to observe and report the scene and emergency workers practiced rescue operations.
Another site was set up with a small structure built to simulate a house that had sunken several feet into the ground as a result of the earthquake and another large house in Weakley County was the location of a mock home for mentally-challenged patients in need of rescue. A final coverage site was a triage location for victims. Over 45 volunteers acted as victims on scene.
University vehicles trans-ported competing students to each disaster site, where they gathered information and combined the facts into reports and stories for judging.
“(The local emergency workers) had to deal with people who aren’t from around here and the people who aren’t from around here had to think on their feet very quickly, which you would have to do if you worked for a big media outlet and were sent anywhere in the world,” Parrish said of the experiential event.
The conference also featured several speakers.
Published in The Messenger 2.14.12

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