Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | April 21, 2013

playing victim

Yesterday morning, Boy Child and I spent about 4 hours at the fire house playing victim for the final training exercise of a local CERT, Community Emergency Response Team. It was both really interesting and kind of boring. A CERT is a group of people who get trained in basic emergency response. The idea seems to be that in an emergency – our group was using a hurricane as our emergency scenario since we all vividly remember Hurricane Sandy from last fall – the first responders (fire, first aid squad, police) may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of emergencies and/or they may not be able to get to the emergencies if roads are flooded or blocked or something. So that leaves just the people who are there to be able to help out. And people certainly do help out. Look at some of those pictures from last week in Boston to see people, just regular people, running toward the explosion to help the injured. The CERT training just gives us regular people some training in how to respond appropriately in an emergency.

So there we were, lying on the floor in various positions, tables overturned, chairs overturned, fake burns on both of my hands, the lights out and the scenario started. The first go around, only the adults really yelled and tried to act like it was real with varying degrees of believability. By the fourth and final go around, the kids were screaming, the adults were yelling for their kids, some people were resisting being helped, others were being obstructive to the CERTs; it was very chaotic. There were open wounds, there were broken bones, there were head injuries, there were people stuck under stacks of plywood. It was a mess. At one point I had been triaged and put in a chair in the triage area but since I was being left alone, I decided to faint, throwing the triage person into a tizzy since they were dealing with a heart attack and a back injury at the same time.

Here are some of the things I found most interesting about the whole exercise:

1. how stressful it was – the combination of the noise, the cries for help, plus the fact that it made the Boston bombing feel that much more immediate.

2. how hard it was not to help others. I felt that with the injuries I had – the palms of both hands badly burned – there was really no way that I would be able to help with anything, but I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to.

3. how hard it is for a lay person to triage injured people correctly. The coding is green=minor injuries, yellow=more severe but not immediately life-threatening, red=life-threatening injury or condition, and black=deceased. I was coded yellow twice, green once and red once, when really burns like that would be yellow.

It certainly did get me thinking about how one does respond in an emergency.



  1. Interesting. I was going to go to CERT training back in Houston, but it ended up not working out for me at the time. I’m still interested in it. Although it was boring, you and boy child did a wonderful thing playing victims. And I bet it was crazy with everyone getting into character. It would be difficult to stay focused and really be able to help in a real situation like that.

    • It was long bits of boring waiting around with crazy, chaotic bits of action. I’ve thought about what I would do in an emergency situation, but I had never really taken into account the noise of everyone screaming and crying and how hard that would be to focus with. The CERT people said it was really hard to not help the screaming people and help the ones in more serious condition first.

  2. Sounds like fun, in a very educational way. I went through CERT training about 10 years ago here in LA, but let my participation lapse when the hardcore health issues started up. Thanks for the reminder that it’s better to do something right than add to the victim list.

    • It was fun. And the practice is good for knowing what to do and preventing panic so, yeah, it’s a good thing.

  3. We thought about becoming part of our local volunteer EMT team, in the last house/neighborhood, then we realized that I’m not very compassionate under certain circumstances (and am shitty in an emergency). Plus ya know, Dan does this for a living, so we never followed up. Yipee for you and that boy of yours, very community-minded!

    • I think the ability to keep a cool head would be really important for that kind of thing. We all have different gifts and you are certainly using yours for the betterment of us all!

  4. Good for you! Sounds like an interesting and worthwhile experience.

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