Theater students help disaster response team with CERT training

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Courtesy of Nicole Schade

Junior Aidan Ryan pretends to have a severed arm as a part of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) disaster training simulations. The simulation’s goal was to test the volunteers’ ability to handle challenging injuries while minimizing mental trauma. “It was funny for me because I got to act panicked and really in shock. It was awesome having the trainees come over and absolutely panic at my situation. I liked having that injury and seeing the whole chaos unfold,” Ryan said.

Leaving a smear of fake blood behind her, junior Nicole Schade is thrown against a whiteboard. Schade volunteered in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program as she acted out an injury. CERT was developed to prepare citizens in cases of emergencies where first responders and other medical services are unable to reach the scene in time to help injured individuals. Schade and juniors Aidan Ryan, Muse Spillman, Kaitlyn Barnes, Juniper Neisius and Cass Isele, and seniors Jackson Gillespie and Griffin Morse were volunteers for the training simulation. Their goal was to mimic injuries that CERT trainees would then assess and treat.

Senior Griffin Morse poses as an injured individual. (Courtesy of Taylor Wilmering)

The students heard about the volunteer opportunity from theater teacher Amie Gossett, who reached out to the theater department’s group chat. Gossett first got students involved in 2020 when one of the CERT coordinators, Taylor Wilmering, reached out to her about theater students acting as victims for Parkway nurse CERT training.

“We need more people. It’s a really good way to get into theater because you get to establish that relationship with Gossett, and you can try out your acting skills [with fake] injuries,” Ryan said. “It’s really fun, it’s a great experience, and I would highly recommend doing it.”

CERT trainees prepare to carry an injured individual. (Courtesy of Taylor Wilmering)

Schade has participated in four CERT training simulations. Though both the location and type of training simulation vary, Schade most recently participated in a tornado simulation in March.

“[The simulations are an experience. I learn how the injury affects you, sometimes it’s a similar injury but a different character. It’s fun to switch it out because the variety stops things from feeling old, and you can learn new things,” Schade said.

Before the simulation, volunteers are prepped for their injuries. Each injury is categorized as red, yellow or green. Red injuries are life-threatening, and yellow injuries require medical attention, while green injuries do not require immediate care.

“I enjoy playing very bloody injuries if I can help it or concussions because then you can just act insane and it looks very cool,” Schade said. “When you are covered in fake blood and look like a character from an action movie, it makes you feel like a superhero. It gives you a lot of morbid creative freedom.”

The simulations have offered Schade the opportunity to explore new methods of acting. While Schade typically focuses on acting with a script or working on improvisation, the simulation required Schade to act without a script and the comedy-based aspect of improv. 

“You just got to go for it, especially if you’re doing a character who is very over the top. It takes a lot of confidence to, quite frankly, look like an idiot on stage,” Schade said. “It’s funny, but you will feel awkward and uncomfortable [at] first. You feel like you look very stupid, and you do, but it’s funny, and that’s the point. It helped give me that jumpstart of being comfortable.”

CERT trainees assess the injuries of a volunteer. (Courtesy of Taylor Wilmering)

While Gossett organized the volunteering, it remains open to students outside  the theater department and anyone else who wishes to volunteer. Students can get involved with future CERT simulations by contacting Gossett, or they can be added to Wilmering’s contact list for updates on future events. 

It is a great real-world experience for my students to participate in using their improv and acting skills to help for a good cause,” Gossett said.

Though the students were not involved in the training aspect of the CERT program, Ryan believes he gained a better understanding of disaster situations. As a part of the exercise, Ryan was assigned a red injury which included a severed arm during the tornado simulation. Ryan waited in  position until trainees arrived to offer medical care.

“People were screaming and shouting to get people over to the medical area. It was a chaotic scene. I learned how terrifying a real scene could be because of that, [and that] was just us acting it [out],” Ryan said. “[The scene] is not an actual thing that happened, so I can just imagine how an actual event would occur and relate to this. It’s helpful in that aspect.”