At the Ready

For all our hope that a disaster or public health emergency never happen where we live, there is an equal, or greater, need to be prepared for any situation. Senior Alaina Perkins did such work as an intern with the Virginia Department of Health’s Peninsula District, which serves Newport News and the surrounding communities.

Perkins, a biology major and leadership studies minor, worked in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit, in a for-credit practicum, assisting the staff in creating the emergency scenarios used to train officials in how to respond to events. She helped develop a database for area hospitals to use in treating blast and burn victims. During training exercises actors are made up and scripted to appear as though they have suffered injuries, and medical triage personnel use the database to assess and begin routing the “victims” through treatment. The tool tracks the patients as they are moved to different rooms or facilities based on their needs. “Knowing where the patients are is crucial for various reasons, especially to reuniting families,” Perkins says. “I was tasked to test the hospital’s ability to find patients at any stage of treatment. In all the chaos, every patient was located within 10 minutes.” At the end of an exercise hospitals use the data to determine if personnel and equipment resources are adequate. “It definitely tested the staff and helped them to prepare for a potential public health emergency at any given time – which I hope will never happen,” she says.

The experience not only immersed Perkins in the chaos that can ensue during an emergency, but also drew on her skills to help bring order and stability to the process, which can become vastly complex once all the different first-responders, doctors, family members and facilities become involved. “It was amazing to see firsthand what happens after the paramedics pick up and then deliver a patient to the hospital,” she says. “I never realized how many different factors occur once a patient is dropped off at a hospital until personally witnessing it.”

Teresa Winstanley is program manager for the Peninsula Medical Reserve Corps, which works with the health department to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. “Alaina was an excellent addition to the Emergency Preparedness and Response Program,” Winstanley says. “She was always willing to learn new things and thinks outside of the box. She also brought fresh ideas using technology and social media to the table.”

For all the excitement such an internship program has provided Perkins, she is also heavily involved in safer pursuits around campus. She’s a member of CNU’s signature President’s Leadership Program (PLP) as a recruiter and a leader in the Summer Leadership Adventure Program, PLP’s summer orientation program for incoming students. She’s also represented her classmates in the Student Assembly and worked as a research assistant in CNU’s botany labs. It’s the multitude of ways students can engage at Christopher Newport that attracted her in the first place. “I have been very grateful for all that CNU has to offer, she says. “Ultimately it is your choice how you choose to make the best of CNU life. You don’t want to miss out on your overall college experience, so keep up with your classes, participate on campus, make lasting friendships, stay connected and you will be so glad that you did.” Perkins was equally taken with CNU’s close-knit community and small class sizes. “I didn’t want to be a ‘number’ in a classroom full of hundreds of students,” she says. “I wanted my professors to know me by my first name.”

After CNU she plans to pursue a graduate degree in public health to focus on the disease prevention – a frequent contributing factor to many public emergencies. “I want to further my understanding of how to ultimately enhance and protect public health,” she says. With the experience she’s had at CNU under her belt she’ll have seen the problem from both sides. – Brian McGuire

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