Areas of Study

Disasters can strike with little or no warning. They come on any scale, from causing minor headaches to absolute devastation. Whether natural or human in origin, disasters cannot always be prevented; but ensuring people are prepared and equipped to help their neighbors can mean the difference between life and death.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training seeks to educate and prepare people for emergency situations. In July, free CERT training was offered at Gallaudet. It was the first of its kind for the deaf and hard of hearing community in Washington, D.C. About 40 Gallaudet students, staff, and faculty participated in the three-day course. The event was nationally sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and locally sponsored by Serve DC, The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism. Along with its sponsorships, the courses were assisted by D.C. Fire and Emergency Management Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the Washington, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

“Serve D.C. wanted to provide the CERT training in order to establish volunteers who can take care of the Gallaudet community in the event of a disaster,” said Jason Williamson, Neighborhood Corps Program Manager with Serve DC. “In an emergency situation, first responders may not be able to help everyone in the District immediately, and this training gives members of the Gallaudet community the knowledge and the skills they need to save lives and maintain a sense of order.”

The first CERT lesson was “Disaster Preparedness.” Participants learned how to identify potential hazards in the Washington, D.C. area, key elements of disaster situations, and the most important ways a person can prepare for unexpected emergencies.

Kim Fletcher, executive vice president of Readiness Consulting Services, led the training and discussed the importance of creating a disaster supply kit.

“Developing an emergency plan for yourself and your family is absolutely critical,” said Fletcher. “We can reduce some of the potential hazards that exist in our communities, but not all of them. A perfect example of this is the derecho that hit the D.C. metro area in late June, causing severe damage and knocking out power to tens of thousands of residents for days. Households and dormitory rooms equipped with a disaster supply kit with items such as flashlights, batteries, food, and water would be at a great advantage in the event of an emergency like the derecho.”

Demonstrations and hands-on activities are an essential part of CERT training. During the first day of instruction, the Gallaudet group was assigned a disaster scenario during which they were stuck inside the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center’s Multipurpose Room for 72 hours with no outside assistance. Using the instructions they were given earlier in the day, the trainees sprang into action within 20 minutes–a team responsible for communication, food, sleeping arrangements, and security was assembled, greatly improving their odds for survival in the event of a real emergency.

Dr. Barbara White, a professor of social work and a member of Gallaudet’s Crisis Leadership Team, said the simulation made her realize how important it is for every workplace to have a safety plan.

“I learned I need to have enough non-perishable food and water in my office and car to survive for at least 72 hours, in addition to having an emergency plan and a meeting place for family members in case our usual methods of communication are not available,” said White.

“Disaster Medical Operations” was a course that provided instruction for the immediate medical treatment of victims following a major disaster. The class was taught by Washington, D.C. firefighter Fred Gordon, with Engine 21 in the Adams Morgan section of the city.

“CERT members need to do the most good for the most amount of people by conducting simple triage and rapid treatment,” said Gordon. “CERTs must prioritize who can be helped and who can’t be helped.”

Gordon taught the Gallaudet team how to identify and provide treatment for life-threatening conditions such as airway obstruction, bleeding, and shock and how to work quickly and efficiently to save as many lives as possible. CERTs must be able to evaluate a patient and quickly decide what type of treatment they need.

Matt Sickon, assistant director of donor relations in the Development Office serves as a floor captain and said this training proved to be very enlightening for him.

“There are many things I’ve learned, for example, triage. There are only 30 seconds given in which we can assess each individual and see how well they are doing, if they need help or if they are okay.  I thought we might have one or two minutes per person, but no, it’s 30 seconds,” said Sickon. “One of the many things you have to learn is to adjust your response to situations and let the professionals take care of other things.”

Group discussions often involved how hearing emergency personnel would treat deaf victims. During one of Gordon’s demonstrations, Dr. Mary Keane, director of campus activities and community programs, was chosen as a volunteer for victim assessment, which means to evaluate a person’s injuries. Gordon conducted a full-body inspection without the use of an interpreter to simulate what it would be like in the event of an emergency, where interpreters might not necessarily be readily available. Gordon and Keane quickly began to improvise through gesture to conduct the assessment.

“Having this kind of interaction is important so that emergency responders can become familiar with the deaf community and be more prepared to assist deaf people in a crisis,” said White. “I hope this can be the start of more training and collaborations with first responders.”

Fire safety was a key unit in the training as the CERTs learned how to properly use fire extinguishers to put out small fires through a demonstration on the Gallaudet mall, how to prevent additional fires, and to assist with evacuations if necessary.

The co-chairs of the University’s Crisis Leadership Team, Theodore Baran, and Dwight Benedict, believe the training will greatly benefit the Gallaudet community if a disaster strikes.

“The more people who are trained, the better, no matter what,” said Baran, who is the Director of Gallaudet’s Department of Public Safety. “The CERT training helps us by exposing more people on campus about what to do to help us and that’s what we need.”

Benedict, the Dean of Student Affairs and Academic Support, hopes all the University’s floor captains participate in future CERT trainings.

“I always feel that Gallaudet is prepared, but there is always room for improvement,” said Benedict. “I can never say we are satisfied, we must continue to improve.”

Carla Morris, a Ph.D. student in linguistics who participated in the training, believes the CERT course is a good starting point for a larger movement on Gallaudet’s campus.

“Just doing this training is not enough. We need to have a functioning team that continues and keeps training,” said Morris. “[The CERT instructors] are giving us the tools to set up our team and make it function.”

To learn more about CERT training, go to

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