Mozingo Lake − well, a part of it anyway − was transformed into a major disaster area over the weekend during Missouri Hope, a crisis response exercise staged by students and faculty from Northwest Missouri State University's comprehensive crisis response program.
Ground zero for the catastrophe was Redden Village. Named for Northwest facilities services manager and volunteer firefighter John Redden, the "village" is a collection of concrete rubble, old storage containers and other debris scattered across a hillside just north of the Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area rope course.
According to the scenario for the three-day simulation, the town had been hit by a devastating tornado, similar to the massive storm that leveled much of Joplin, Mo., in 2011.
About 40 students participated in Missouri Hope, most of them comprehensive crisis response majors, a new degree program at Northwest that prepares graduates for careers in the budding field of disaster management.
After arriving at Mozingo Lake on Friday, the students were divided into teams, each of which took turns working through the exercise's three "tracks": incident command and control, the rescue and recovery of victims trapped on the far side of a destroyed bridge, and the mounting of search, rescue and triage operations in and around Redden Village.
As the teams moved into the field, they encountered sights and sounds that did indeed mirror the panic and horror of a major disaster. Bloodied bodies lay strewn across mounds of rubble, and the moans and cries of the injured filled the air.
Teams of hardhat-wearing rescuers moved beneath the rain-heavy sky administering first aid and using crowbars to gently free victims trapped beneath mounds of concrete and lumber, a technique known as "cribbing."
The injured who could walk were escorted up the hill to a triage area, where a Nodaway County ambulance crew stood by, and Red Cross volunteers dispensed bottled water. Those who couldn't walk were carried in stretchers.
Watching over the scene was "controller evaluator" Chance Long, a political science and CCR major from Kansas City who thinks she might like to work as a disaster response manager for an insurance company − if she doesn't opt for law school instead.
Long was one of several old hands at Missouri Hope who participated in a similar exercise last year in Florida, where the training scenario was a severe earthquake.
Looking on as a group of students tried to free a trapped victim with a severe stomach wound, she noted that, while the team was doing a good job, mistakes had been made. For one thing, the rescuers had forgotten to send someone in to mark the injured so that the most serious cases could be addressed first.
"It's my job both to control the situation and to observe how they handle it," Long said. "But the most important thing is to look out for everyone's safety."
Page 2 of 2 - Northwest is among a growing number of universities in the region who are adding crisis management courses to their curriculum, including the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
Demand for trained professionals in the field has been growing since 1995 when a domestic terrorist named Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Then came the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, not to mention an ever-growing list of hostage situations, embassy attacks and humanitarian crises that seem to produce new headlines daily.
All of which means that crisis management is one of the hottest careers out there, hot enough that Northwest senior Stephanie Eiken of Kansas City is staking her future on it.
A wiry young woman with close-cropped hair, a megawatt smile and a couple of tons of self-confidence, Eiken spoke with reporters Friday after helping put her team through its paces on the Mozingo rope course, using a basket stretcher to lower a plastic dummy "victim" carefully to the ground.
A psychology major with an emphasis in CCR, Eiken hopes to attend graduate school at the University of Colorado-Denver and has her sights set on a Ph.D. in disaster psychology.
She said she was recruited into the program by Mark Corson, a geosciences professor and U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general who teaches a number of CCR courses.
"He's very passionate about it, and I guess it kind of rubs off on you," Eiken said. "I just realized it was something I wanted to do, and that it was meant to be. I'm drawn to people, and I'm drawn to their story. You see people at their most real selves in a crisis.
That's when they are at their most vulnerable point."