Nelson Hernandez's Sept. 30 Metro story about a mass-casualty drill at the National Naval Medical Center told the story from the perspective of the creator of the scenario. I was one of the "victims."

I was standing about 25 feet from the "explosion" and was "burned" on my head, neck and torso. I was drenched in red dye and had "soot" blown over my burned tissues.

When I became unresponsive, the emergency medical technicians carried me in the ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. There, medical staff in hazmat suits rolled me through the decontamination tent. Finding no vital signs, the doctor directed that I be sent to the "morgue" in the parking lot. Then I worried about a sunburn on top of my lethal injuries.

So despite my role, I asked as I was being wheeled away: "You're not really going to wheel me to the morgue, are you?" The doctor smiled, opened the doors to the hospital auditorium and invited me to enjoy a buffet lunch with the dozens of other volunteer "casualties." My "injuries" later washed off in the shower.

What I learned that day is that even the best-laid plans can be overwhelmed by too many people, too little time and fear and uncertainty among those injured.

As we saw with hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, we need to be able to take care of ourselves in our neighborhoods for the first 72 hours after a disaster. Emergency personnel will be overwhelmed, and disruptions in electrical supply and in communications can make it impossible to get accurate information immediately. All of us can improve our preparation through participation in community emergency response teams.

Pioneered in the Los Angeles area for earthquakes, these teams have shown that providing training and making neighborhood connections can improve response. We need to get better acquainted with our neighbors. Who's got a generator? Who needs electricity for a ventilator? We need to be able to assess needs and resources and do some preliminary matches for the first few hours before first responders can reach us.

I hope that disaster preparation will remind us again that we are tied together in networks of mutual and reciprocal responsibilities. Let's not wait for a hurricane or other disaster to work on the social networks that can make all the difference.