When Laurie Thomas Wallace took the CDP’s Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents (HCL) course, she commented on the CDP’s Facebook page that training at the CDP was an “awesome experience” and that the CDP’s “role players are fantastic!” The Bloomburg, Penn., native is a clinical educator in respiratory care services with Geisinger Health System in Danville, Penn., and is just one of thousands of students who interact with the CDP’s role players every year.

The CDP provides advanced, hands-on training to which the center’s role players add an extra level of realism during the end-of-course exercises and the Integrated Capstone Event (ICE), exercises in which students from several courses work together in a culminating, all-hazard, mass casualty incident training exercise.

The CDP’s role players take on many different characters during an exercise, depending on the scenario, according to Chuck Medley, assistant director for Training Delivery. Many of the actors take on the parts of injured survivors in the mass casualty exercises, but they also portray elected officials, concerned family members or fellow responders.

They act from scripts that are written to advance the goals of the exercise, Medley explained. Depending on the exercise, the CDP will use as few as five or as many as 100 role players.

The CDP’s role players represent a diverse group, he said. They range in age from young adult to senior citizen and include persons with special needs, such as those who are physically challenged. They also represent victims who are deaf, blind, have language barriers or are pet owners who have their pets with them.

“They add realism and a sense of urgency to the exercises,” Medley said. “A mannequin can depict an injured person in an exercise and give the students a subject to triage and treat. It takes the training to a whole new level when you have someone in front of you who is bleeding and screaming for help.”

The role players participate in exercises for several CDP courses. For example, in the Emergency Medical Operations for CBRNE Incidents (EMO) course, the role players may portray victims at the incident scene, screaming for help from the smoky confines of a subway car. In the Field Force Operations (FFO) course exercise, the role players take on the personas of irate protestors, causing civil unrest to which police officers are called to respond. For the Field Force Extrication Tactics (FFE) course, the actors may take on the parts of environmentalists who have chained themselves to railings outside of a chemical company. In that scenario, law enforcement officers in the FFE course respond with the tools to safely remove the protestors from the devices. In the HCL course, a role player may portray an elected official, such as the mayor, who shows up at the scene demanding to be briefed on the incident response, while another will be a concerned family member demanding assistance for his wounded loved one. They also play various roles in the ICEs.

“The role players portray the people the responders are likely to encounter at a real incident response,” Medley said.

The actors are an integral part of the exercises they support. In many cases, they portray “injects” or clues for the students that support the exercise objectives. In one instance, a “patient” shows up exhibiting symptoms such as a high fever, runny nose, a cough and a bad rash. In so many words, the actor is telling the student he has measles, which adds an extra complexity to the response. In addition, the role players keep the exercise focused on the learning objectives. They add stress and adjust the operational tempo of the exercise.

“While we knew it was an exercise in training, you kept thinking in your mind, ‘Is it? Is it really?’” said HCL student Vicki Buchanan, a nurse supervisor at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. “The pressure was on, and it was absolutely intense.”

Note: This paragraph will be included only for the website version: State, local, tribal and territorial responders have the opportunity to take CDP courses and maybe interact with the CDP’s role players by signing up for CDP training. Not every CDP course includes an exercise in which role players make an appearance, but every course is fully funded by Department of Homeland Security, including travel, lodging and meals. Get more information on CDP training and sign up online at http://cdp.dhs.gov.