Nurses at the Parkway School District used the day off classes to learn about something nobody wants to imagine: triaging a school after a mass casualty event.

It’s a hard topic for the nurses here to talk about, but they say it feels unsettlingly timely.

“It might be easier to think that well this could never happen here, but I think more and more I’m realizing that you just don’t know,” said Katherine Park, a nurse at Oak Brook Elementary School, “so it’s good to be prepared.”

They referenced the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the massacre in Las Vegas last week---as well as natural disasters like the Joplin tornado.

Triage is when victims are sorted and prioritized for care—like in an emergency room. It’s a different process with large amounts of younger children like the ones these nurses treat, which is why they’re learning National Association of School Nurses guidelines.

It involves a lot of hard choices—assessing kids’ ages and needs in miliseconds, and contradicts the way most of them are trained to think.

“Normally in healthcare we would tend to the most critically injured first and meet all of their needs, but in a mass casualty event our resources are overwhelmed and we can’t necessarily meet the needs of the most critically injured but we can meet the needs of as many as we can,” said Robin Wallin, the Parkway Schools Director of Health Services. “It’s really uncomfortable and really hard to think about and I think having this opportunity to prepare and plan will help us be better first responders.”

The mass casualty and triage training is just one installment of a year’s focus on emergency preparedness from the nurses at the school district.