Make DC Better

By Ann Carper, bell@burleith.org

A couple of years ago, I saw a notice on the Burleith listserv about Serve DC’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer program, which trains citizens to be better prepared to respond to emergencies in their communities. 

What caught my eye was the free training covering disaster preparedness, fire safety, medical operations and first aid, search and rescue, disaster psychology, and terrorism. After taking the five-session class, I received periodic emails from CERT offering specialized training and the chance to participate in exercises and drills as well as provide support for major events taking place in the city.

ouch! trauma moulage, like this compound fracture, makes training drills more realistic.

ouch! trauma moulage, like this compound fracture, makes training drills more realistic.

I’d been following the progress of the DC streetcars, so jumped at the chance to volunteer for a training exercise one early Sunday morning last summer. Held on the tracks on H Street NE, the simulated automobile/streetcar collision gave first responders—fire, police, EMS—a chance to handle a “derailment with injuries.” Although a few CERT graduates were involved as responders, most played passengers and a handful of us suffered injuries.

As Patient #6, I received a compound fracture. A moulage artist applied the wound with adhesive and dusted on several shades of blush to get the right bruising effect. (Google “make-up for wound and trauma simulations” to see what’s possible!)

this card summarized my condition and vital signs as part of triage.

this card summarized my condition and vital signs as part of triage.

When we took our places in the streetcar, I positioned myself by a rear door, flinging myself to the floor and writhing in agony when we "derailed." We were encouraged to be convincing, so I moaned and yelled for help until a responder tagged me with a red band indicating “needs immediate care.” Even so, in the triage process (which I learned about in CERT training), a broken bone isn’t life threatening so others more seriously injured than I were attended to first. Eventually, my fellow woundees and I were led or carried from the streetcar, and our acting roles ended. I returned my compound fracture, had my arm cleaned with a solvent, and watched myself on Fox 5 News that evening. The various responder groups met for a debrief and later documented lessons learned.

Participating in the drill was a fun and fascinating way to learn what's involved in testing and commissioning a new mode of transportation. So if the streetcars ever make it as far as Georgetown, you'll have me to thank (or blame!).


CERT graduates receive a backpack filled with tools and supplies, a t-shirt, and work gloves to use in emergency response situations.

CERT graduates receive a backpack filled with tools and supplies, a t-shirt, and work gloves to use in emergency response situations.

July 2015 CERT General Session
Register for the July 27–31 CERT training on Serve DC's website. Training is from 6–9 pm and held at Teach for America near the Shaw-Howard Metro station. The next two sessions will be held on August 24–28 and September 21–25. CERT training is free and open to anyone who lives, works, or congregates in DC.