RIO GRANDE CITY "Disaster" is a word not lightly used and certainly not a situation anyone hopes to face. However, Valley residents can rest assured that graduates from South Texas College's Emergency Medical Technology Program will be well prepared to face a major disaster head on should one occur in the region.

Recently STC hosted FEMA at its Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City, where students learned from top-level federal trainers about health care management of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive events. The course was offered to the college and its students free of charge as part of an effort to ensure national disaster preparedness on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center and the Texas A&M University System.

"This is awareness training and meant to make responders as prepared as possible," said Ernie Witener, FEMA training specialist. "With these agents we are discussing, time is essential and makes the difference between life and death. It all boils down to better protecting the public and that's why we are here working with these students."

Over the course of two days, 130 STC EMT students attended intensive seminars and hands-on workshops simulating disaster scenarios. In the classroom seminars students learned about the chemistry and reaction of a variety of agents, and how to respond. In the hands-on sessions, students were broken into groups to work on simulated patients to apply the strategies learned in the classroom.

"As instructors, we are always learning about new techniques and issues facing the EMT community, but the professionals that trained our students during these two days were top-level with knowledge of the most innovative strategies out there and that's why this is so exciting - we can truly say our STC EMT students are on the cutting edge of the field," said Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, chair of STC's EMT Program.

Students earned 16 continuing education credit hours for participation in the training. They learned how to address environmental factors, protective issues for emergency personnel and the public, basic decontamination considerations, transportation procedures and patient treatment using the RAPID Care concept.

"The training was great because you never know what you will encounter in the field," said STC EMT Program student Kat Cavazos. "We have to be prepared for the worst. This is about as real as it gets and its very exciting for me because I think I will be better prepared than others because of this training. It gives me the confidence to be a team leader and take the lead in the field."

For more information about STC' Emergency Medical Technology Program call 956-872-3166 or 956-872-3178.