What Crisis Prevention Trainees Learned From a Mock Car Crash

May 6, 2016
Courtney Vorell
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

While doing a CPI initial training recently in Braham, MN, my training partner (Lynn Schutte, BCBA, autism specialist) and I had a unique and timely experience.

For our first-time trainees, I am sure they didn’t know quite what to expect—especially not what happened on Day 2 of training.

We had planned to review the previous day, wrap up personal safety items, and delve into physical interventions. As trainers, Lynn and I were informed by the building administration that there was going to be a mock accident for senior students at the school to witness.

The intent of the program was to provide a real-life example of what can happen when students drink and drive. This is a yearly program that’s scheduled for the week or so before prom. Students did not know when the event would occur, and personnel from the community and the school set up the crash scene over the course of two hours that morning. The school had recruited, trained, and practiced with select students to participate as actors in the mock crash.

Prior to becoming a behavior analyst, in my “former life” I was a college instructor. I have always been interested in motivation and the best ways students learn. I often relied on using real-life experiences and situations to aid in my teaching of course concepts.

As crisis prevention trainers, Lynn and I thought that the opportunity to witness the mock crash scenario could provide our trainees with an excellent experience so we could connect our course concepts to. So, we all went outside to watch.

Fire trucks, police, and other emergency vehicles were arriving at the crash scene in the school parking lot when the exercise began. Students and staff formed a half-circle behind safety cones to observe. There were about six students involved in the crash and each had a varying degree of injury.

The scene was chaotic at first with the students involved in the accident shouting at each other, crying, and not sure what to do next.

The emergency crews triaged the cases (I will use this as an example of the Decision-Making Matrix in future training) and quickly and calmly went to work freeing the students from the mangled vehicles.

The team worked well together with one person directing them. Though the scenario was not real,
based on how efficient the team was I could tell that this was not far off from how they would act if the situation was real.

Students emerged from the vehicles in torn prom attire with fake blood dripping; some were carried on backboards, others were escorted away, and one student went to the hospital in a helicopter.

Early on, during the triage portion, when the crew first arrived they assessed a student who had appeared to go through the windshield and was lying lifeless on the hood of the car. After assessing the student, a white sheet was placed over the body, signifying that the student had passed. Later in the event this was the last victim removed from the wreckage, and the student was transported to a hearse. I was impressed with how professional, caring, and respectful the team was during this portion.

During and after the event, our CPI trainees processed what they had seen. A theme that kept coming up was how calm, nonjudgmental, and poised the first responders were during the event. This provided the victims with some stability during the traumatic event and made the rescue team’s job easier. When the victims were able to be calmed, the crew could work faster and remain focused.

This reminded me of the calmness that CPI trainees need to exhibit in a crisis in order to maintain focus on what needs to be done, as well as to show the person in crisis that you have it together even if they don’t.

The priority was keeping everyone safe and not assigning blame.

Rational Detachment is one of my favorite concepts in CPI training. It’s defined as “The ability to manage your own behavior and attitude and not take the behavior of others personally.”

I think it’s my favorite concept because it’s something that’s within our control in situations where it feels like we have no control. I imagine the first responders involved in the mock crash are excellent at Rational Detachment as evidenced by how calm and focused they were in their work, despite the chaotic scene they came upon.

Another connection to CPI curriculum that trainees mentioned was how the emergency workers managed the different behavior levels the victims were demonstrating. When a victim was so anxious that she could not talk, the police officer provided her with a warm coat and calming words (supportive).

Another student was defensive over having caused the crash. The firefighters were directive in telling the student to sit on the curb.

When two students were arguing, the police person de-escalated the situation by blocking them and escorting them to another location.

CPI is deeply rooted in research and understanding about how to best respond to a crisis. I am so pleased that my trainees had the opportunity to witness these concepts in action. Our training was richer because of this experience and I believe the trainees went away with not only the knowledge about the crisis prevention concepts, but also an understanding of how to put them into action in their real work environments.

Do you incorporate experiences like this in your training? 

About the Author: Courtney Vorell, MS, BCBA, is a behavior analyst for the Rum River Special Education Cooperative. When studying behavior analysis, she became interested in working in schools. She now consults with four school districts regarding student behavior concerns. She has been a CPI trainer for about a year and has been working to incorporate the enhanced training content into the districts she works with. After surviving the Minnesota winter, she’s looking forward to enjoying the outdoors!

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