Oriented Toward Safety

In wake of Virginia Tech shootings, some colleges prepare for more questions about security from parents and students.

September 1, 2009

The focus for freshmen just arriving on a campus is typically on getting settled in: meeting classmates, signing up for classes and figuring out how to avoid getting lost in a maze of dorms, academic buildings and quads.

But for close to 1,200 first-year students at Emory University this August, the second night of freshman orientation brought another element into the mix: learning how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and -- potentially -- to save a life.

Gathered on the waxy wood floors of Woodruff Physical Education Center’s arena, more than 90 percent of the Atlanta university’s freshman class spent an hour learning the basics of how to help someone suffering from cardiac arrest. Following along with an American Heart Association training video, students kneeled over inflatable mannequins, breathing into their mouths and compressing their hollow chests.

The idea of the course, said the dean of students, Bridget Guernsey Riordan, is that “anybody can help” someone in distress and that there’s no better group to start with than freshmen.

Though the course wasn’t strictly mandatory, Alexandra Amaducci, the chief of the student-run Emory EMS and a senior majoring in neuroscience, said that by including it on the official freshman orientation schedule, the university gave students and their families a sense that it was an event they ought to attend.

When Emory EMS offered an optional training course during last year’s orientation, it attracted more than 700 freshmen. The squad’s training programs throughout the last few academic years have attracted hundreds more undergraduates, graduate students and others. Riordan hopes to see the organization sponsor many more training events during this academic year. “There was substantial interest coming from other students,” Riordan said, “and we plan to follow through with it this year.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn State and scores of other colleges and universities offer large-scale training courses that annually educate hundreds of students on CPR and other first aid measures, such as using a defibrillator. But Emory’s program is “quite unique and really unprecedented,” said Michael S. Wiederhold, treasurer of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation.

Wiederhold, a 2000 Emory graduate, isn’t saying that just out of loyalty to his alma mater. Though other institutions call for all students in health-related majors to learn the procedure or offer optional CPR training sessions, NCEMSF is unaware of any other program that has attracted nearly as many people at one time as Emory’s course.

Wiederhold visited the university in August to watch the event. “It was really amazing to see all these kids in a gym, learning how to help other people,” he said. “In a setting where education is already very important, it was great to watch them all learn about health and safety.”

Though the national organization isn’t actively advocating for other institutions to adopt Emory’s model, its president, George J. Koenig, does encourage student EMS squads to organize large-scale training sessions. Its annual collegiate EMS week, during the second week of November, includes a nationwide CPR training day, when hundreds – if not thousands – of students are expected to learn the procedure.

Amaducci, the campus EMS chief, said the session emphasized that while students would be unlikely to encounter a peer experiencing cardiac arrest, there are “plenty of professors, staff and others on campus who are in the prime age group for cardiac arrest” and for whom CPR “could make a huge difference in keeping alive.”

Ariel Manning, a freshman from Atlanta, said she hopes that “with all incoming freshmen taking this course, it’ll decrease the likelihood of someone dying” at Emory.

Freshman Kelly Salls, a certified lifeguard from Geneva, Ill., who was already well-versed in CPR, said she considered the course “a great refresher” that would give her the confidence to perform the procedure if she were to encounter someone in distress. For her classmates with no knowledge of CPR, the training was “definitely valuable … I think it’s something everyone should know even if they don’t think they’re ever going to need to use it.”

Salls added that many students found the course to be fun, if not immediately useful. “We weren’t sure that we were ever going to need to use CPR” but “everyone I was with was having fun with the inflatable dummies, trying to follow along with the video.”


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