What If…? BOH Discusses Disaster Prep

Did you know that if you signed up as a volunteer to assist the Town of Marion during a catastrophic disaster such as bioterrorism, a deadly viral outbreak, or perhaps, let’s say, even a zombie apocalypse, in return for your commitment your family would be medically treated before the general population?

According to Marion’s Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey, that is in fact the deal. Volunteers’ family members would receive priority medical treatment so that volunteers could focus their attention on the task before them. Yet still, Marion falls short when it comes to volunteers who have signed up for its Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) team and needs more.

Meeting discussions took a turn towards the terrifying during the Marion Board of Health meeting on July 24 as Downey brought up multiple scenarios of catastrophes that could occur, for which no one ever knows whether they are truly prepared.

After a brief talk about a regionalization of Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester into one Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) where the state would deliver vaccines and antidotes to the one location at ORR instead of to each town, Downey’s voice took a rather somber tone.

“In terms of the EDS, I spoke to people in Rochester and I spoke to people in Mattapoisett,” said Downey. “There’s a recognition that decisions have to be made as a tri-town if we’re going to do it as a tri-town, but each town also needs to be prepare to do the EDS by themselves.”

The goal since 2014, Downey said, has been to establish a Tri-Town EDS, “But obviously there’re some steps in terms of who’s going to be in charge that didn’t get addressed – who was supporting whom – there were some question marks there.”

Marion’s EDS center and emergency shelter is still Sippican School, and Marion’s public health officials continue to develop its EDS and MRC plan and provide training for the multitude of nightmarish scenarios that could befall the town and the region; but steps need to be taken should the EDS become regionalized, and if an eventual regionalized emergency shelter were to be established at ORR, a protocol for how the three towns would organize themselves.

There are some concerns in Rochester about that town’s residents’ travel time to ORR, but on the flip side of that, Downey said, “We don’t have enough people for each town to run their own, so there’s some strength in numbers … with that kind of a crisis – 24 hours a day.”

But until that day, it’s each town for itself. And in Marion, according to Downey, “We don’t have enough volunteers by a long shot.”

Downey wasn’t talking about your average snowstorm emergency shelter, either. “We’re talking about a dire situation,” said Downey, “not normal circumstances.” People would need vaccines, antidotes, triage and treatment, and quite possibly, care that MRC workers wouldn’t be able to provide.

And a system such as this requires lots of volunteers, and not just volunteers trained in medicine. In addition to doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, the MRC needs anyone willing to manage different stations and control the flow of people. They would need security, people to check-in victims, keep paperwork, provide mental health services, Downey said, “All sorts of things.” Especially, she said, assistance with communications.

“How can we get the message out, given that we have so many different generations that are receiving their information in very different ways?” Downey wondered aloud. “With twenty different ways? What is the uniform way? Forty years ago it was the fire-beep system, the horns… Maybe they need to be that basic.”

There are some things that one can’t possibly anticipate in such an emergency, stressed Downey, but having a plan and enough volunteers to assist is vital.

“We all recognize that this would be a particular scenario that would be different than another emergency,” said Downey. “I can’t stress enough that, no matter what plan we’ve got, no matter how crazy it is, that’s the plan we’re going with.”

For example, Downey said, “What happens if we have an influx of bodies? How do we handle that?”

“It sounds like [we] need to be working at least locally, making sure we have a plan in place and trying to get support with volunteers,” said Board of Health Chairman Jason Reynolds.

“It feels like we’ve got so far to go and we’re just taking baby steps,” said Downey.

And as Board of Health member John Howard put it, “With a small town with limited resources, it’s really a battle.”

Having a bigger pool of volunteers would help, though, so if you would like to save your family first in the event of a catastrophe, consider being a volunteer for the MRC. Contact the Marion Board of Health Administrative Assistant Maureen Murphy by calling 508-748-3530.

The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for August 14 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Health

By Jean Perry


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