Three hours before the biggest earthquake Utah's never had, a small group of volunteers is gathering behind a boarded-up elementary school. Armed with plastic tubs filled with containers of makeup, paint, and other unappetizing goop, they prepare to transform a couple hundred students into "victims" of a natural disaster.
It's just another day in the life of a moulage artist.
If the medical field's Hippocratic Oath is to "first, do no harm," then the moulage artist's motto is pretty much its polar opposite: Take someone who looks the picture of health and give them wounds that would make an emergency room doctor sit up and take notice. Deep lacerations. Compound fractures. Severe impalements. Massive third-degree burns.
Moulage is the art of creating fake wounds for the purpose of emergency training. And that emergency training didn't come any bigger than Thursday's Great Utah ShakeOut, the annual statewide mock disaster designed to test the readiness of response teams in the event of a massive earthquake.
Lance Peterson, director of emergency management for Weber County, oversees all disaster planning in the county. He said the ShakeOut focuses on improving emergency response in three areas -- triage, treatment and transportation. This year's event took place in the now-shuttered Grandview Elementary School, in Ogden, which was doubling as an elementary school in Roy.
Tammy Folkman, of Plain City, is the Weber County Community Emergency Response Team coordinator. As such, the task has fallen to her to make sure the county's emergency responders have plenty of realistic-looking victims for what is basically the Super Bowl of Utah disaster preparation drills.
Folkman became involved in emergency preparedness after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
"What happened is, after 9/11 I felt so hopeless," she said. "I couldn't go to New York, so I tried to find something to do, some way to help, here. I started volunteering."
Folkman says she was accustomed to using makeup on herself and others to make them beautiful. Moulage is just the opposite.
"But I still want that wound to look beautiful," she admitted.
This year, as in years past, the victims were about 200 students from the Clearfield Job Corps Center. Early Thursday morning, they were bused to Grandview, where about 10 volunteer moulage artists worked quickly to give them all manner of injuries.
The students lined up at tables set up outside the school, waiting their turn with a moulage artist. As each got to the front of the line, the student would present an injury card with their assigned medical condition, and the artist would go to work:
Most of the students were excited to participate, and looked forward to their wounds -- the bloodier the better.
"Whadaya got?" one student asked another when they received their injury cards.
"Open fracture to my right arm," came the excited reply.
Realism is important — to both the moulage artists and the emergency responders — even down to the corn starch sprinkled on the injured students to resemble the dust from crumbling buildings.
"The moulage we use now is much more realistic," said Bob Fowler, of Fruit Heights, who has been a moulage instructor for a number of years. "It adds simulation to the exercise. Rather than seeing a card that says 'first-degree burn,' they actually see the burn."
Fowler supposes they could just use a felt-tip marker to write "broken" on a victim's leg for one of these exercises, but it wouldn't be the same.
"If it looks broken, they treat it as if it's broken," he said.
Another volunteer moulage artist, LaVar Edwards, of Morgan, agrees.
"It gives you a better sense of what to expect in a real-life situation," said Edwards, a former theater arts major who is just finishing his EMT certification. "With this, it's a lot easier to visualize."
Tylisa Jackson, a Job Corps student from Aurora, Colo., had what appeared to be a piece of glass sticking out of a bloody gash on her head.
"I want to be an RN, maybe a medical tech," said Jackson, who held out her injury card: "Lacerated scalp, skull fracture, raccoon eyes, pulse 50, respirations 20, confused."
Jackson likes this idea of drilling for emergencies.
"It teaches us to be prepared for anything," she said.
Fellow student Alexander Rock, from Castle Rock, Colo., had what looked like a popsicle stick protruding from his forehead.
"I've always been curious about (emergency work)," he said, explaining why he got up early to take part in the mock disaster. "I thought it would be interesting to see what goes on."
Rock's card read: "Penetrating object to forehead, unconscious, respirations 20 and shallow, pulse 120."
"I get to take a little nap," he said, pointing to the "unconscious" part on his card. "Which should be enjoyable, especially since we got up at about 4:30 this morning."
Tarin Roundy is not only a student/victim from the Job Corps center, she also helped out Thursday by creating some of the wounds on her fellow students. She loves this moulage stuff, and does special effects makeup each October at a haunted house in her home town of Tooele.
"Instead of going to high school prom, I went to zombie prom," she says with a grin.
Back home, Roundy actually makes her own blood from an interesting recipe -- corn starch, corn syrup, food coloring, chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.
"It tastes great," she insists.
On Thursday morning, Roundy had just one thought when she received her injury card: "I just wanted it to be bloody."
And she got her wish. "Deep laceration, eye to ear, semiconscious, scared and confused, pulse 118, respirations 12, shallow."
Loretta Cole is the safety specialist at Clearfield Job Corps Center. This is the center's fourth year participating in The Great Utah Shakeout.
"I had over 280 signed up this year," Cole said. "But when you had to meet at the cafeteria at 5 o'clock this morning, some of them dropped out."
Still, they had about 200 students participate.
Cole says students were encouraged to stay in character throughout the disaster — screaming, moaning, crying — at least until they arrived at the hospital.
"When they get to the hospital, we ask them to tone it down," Cole said. "In past years, the other patients at the emergency room thought it was real, and were getting upset seeing it."
Kathy Murdock, EMS coordinator for the Weber County sheriff's office, puts the finishing touches on a fractured bone sticking out of a bloody wound, then sends the student off to his date with mock destiny.
"That's one of my better wounds," she proclaims.
©2014 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)