Climate change-driven storms, floods, natural disasters, disease, terrorism, bioterrorism… Indeed, we are living during times of uncertainty. When disaster strikes, two things are certain: people will need help, and people will want to help.
When we think of emergency response to disaster, we often think of some Hollywood depiction of rescuers pulling people to safety, medical professionals tending to the wounded, and police keeping order during potential chaos while we, the masses of civilians, run for our lives and look to those emergency responders for help. On the news, we see ubiquitous outside groups arrive seemingly from out of nowhere to hand out food and water in an orderly fashion with disaster victims finding shelter and warmth on the cots and in blankets made available to them. However, whether the magnitude of the emergency ranges in degree from winter storm with power outages to nuclear fallout, an organized and effective response will depend on the number of ordinary citizens that pledge to plant their boots on the ground when the you-know-what hits the proverbial fan.
After September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union Address asked all Americans to serve as volunteers in support of the country. Soon after, the Medical Response Corps (MRC) was established.
Local MRC units operate at the community level with the purpose of recruiting and organizing citizen volunteers for reserve in the event of a disaster or emergency. Both medical and non-medical volunteers are essential, says Marion Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey, one of the contact people for the Marion-Rochester unit of the Medical Reserve Corps.
“[The MRC] really is a community that’s taking care of its own community, so we need a wide variety of skills,” said Downey. “We need people who know logistics, people to direct traffic, greeters – we need people who can just treat other human beings with respect and help calm a difficult situation.”
When emergency shelters open up, the operation will need volunteers to provide child care, said Downey, “Because volunteers won’t come if they have to leave their children at home.”
There is a role for anyone in an emergency. You don’t have to be a professional in any one field; however, there is a need for professionals in certain critical areas. The MRC needs practicing and retired health professionals like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, nursing assistants, veterinarians, and therapists of all kinds. Even students of medicine, nursing, and public health are essential to the functioning of the MRC. They also need health educators, epidemiologists, and other public health professionals.
There are other areas needing volunteers, too, the keep records, help with crowd control…
“It’s just a wide variety of needs,” said Downey.
The MRC welcomes the help of chaplains, interpreters, administrative assistants, and others who can help in the many other areas like assisting in recruiting and training, or participating in disaster drills in the community. Everyone has a role to play.
Volunteering is, of course, an act of generosity and selflessness, but there are indeed a number of personal benefits to signing up as an MRC volunteer. Say there is an outbreak of a deadly disease making its way across the region. As an MRC volunteer, you and your immediate family would be the first to receive a vaccine if there is one available. If someone in your family is injured, they will receive immediate attention. Furthermore, volunteers also receive opportunities for free training in CPR, basic first aid, incident command, risk communication, and some additional emergency preparedness courses are also available.
Volunteers are matched to specific tasks according to their ability or skill and given an identification badge that will clearly ID them as a volunteer. When an emergency does eventually strike, there is a plan already in place and ready for execution. Everyone knows where they need to be and what they need to do.
“If you can just think of a talent or a gift that you have that the community could benefit from, it’s highly likely that we need it,” said Downey. “Everybody’s got gifts to share.”
Those in Marion interested in hearing more about volunteering on the Marion-Rochester Medical Reserve Corps may contact Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey at 508-748-3530 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In Rochester, contact Marion-Rochester Regional Health Director Karen Walega at 508-763-5421 or email@example.com.
By Jean Perry