Saturday, February 25, 2012

Integrating the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) into your disaster/exercise or special event

This article was originally posted in the February 2012 Version of the IAEM Bulletin

I have worked as a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Coordinator for the last year; it has become apparent some parts of emergency management are not utilizing MRC to its fullest.  What I would like to do in a short article is give you some examples of what the Corps can do for you.
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) was developed after 9-11 and the anthrax attacks in 2001, which makes it a new addition to the emergency management "tool box".  Since emergency managers cannot know everything, here is your primer for this valuable tool.
             The MRC is a volunteer organization comprised of two sets of valuable volunteers.  The first are medical volunteers, both working and retired, who maintain active medical licensure.  The second category is comprised of support volunteers.  Many units call these folks non-medical volunteers but this term sounds as if they are missing something.  They aren't lacking anything; they have important skills to support the operation of a medical team.  For instance, support volunteers can function as logistics staff, traffic controllers, drivers, couriers, telephone operators and many more positions.  Ever see a hospital run without support?
So how can you utilize them?  There are many ways, but I am going to give you two for now.
1.    Responders at a drill or exercise – For your next exercise contact ESF 8 through your EOC to bring in an MRC team to set up a clinic or a triage area.  Alternatively, if you are doing a tabletop exercise, utilize the MRC to fan out in the community and do public education about the tabletop and what the population would need to do if it had been a real disaster. Why just train the first responders, train the public too.
2.    Public Health Outreach in the Community – MRC volunteers have a wealth of knowledge and are interested in supporting the community they live in.  A great way to take advantage of their skills is using them as support in community outreach.  Whether it is during an exercise or a separate event, MRC members can be utilized to inform the public.  Specifically, medical volunteers interact with at-risk access and functional needs individuals (such as the homeless, elderly and special needs) regularly and are equipped to properly educate and assist this population.  Educating the public about how to prepare for an emergency will further alleviate the stress our response system feels in the event of a disaster. Events, such as health fairs and community block parties are a great opportunity to do public education.  MRC volunteers would be a great resource at your next fair or block party.

As we all know, it is vital to understand and utilize all of your emergency management tools both during practice and during a real world event; as you work with your local MRC you may come up with more ideas.  The goal is to include MRC volunteers in your planning and exercises so you will think to include them when the disaster happens.
Don't let a valuable resource atrophy, because you didn’t know about or utilize it!

Don’t know how to contact your local MRC?  Here is the link to the national site, look up your area by Region, State or zip code. FindMRC

Dave Nichols, CEM
Field Operations Manager
Public Health serving Seattle & King County, Washington


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Orientation IS the most important step

You have spent time and effort to get the volunteer in the door, now keep them there! This blog post at VolunteerHub does a nice job singing the praises of the orientation, not just putting the volunteer to work.  While they seem to be aiming at the non-disaster volunteer, it rings true for disaster-volunteers too; we need to do a solid orientation.  

The orientation for my MRC takes about 1.5 hours, done monthly.  I cover many things; paperwork, history of the MRC, what our unit does (we do several Public Health related missions per month) the laws and how they apply to them in a disaster.  But one of the things I do that I think sticks is put up a slide that says:

In 5 minutes or less, tell us-
  • Your name
  • Whether you are a medical or support volunteer
  •  Why you are here
  • Where you live (my county covers 2,000 square miles and has 37 cities, in 3 zones)
This short talk by the volunteer in front of the other newbie’s (usually 10-12) takes care of introductions, lets them connect with others in their zone, as well as seeing they are like other people (why you are here question).
So don't take a short cut and skip the orientation, make it worth their time to show up at 530 on a work night or a Saturday morning, and give them the opportunity to feel like part of something bigger.


PS: If you are going to be in the Seattle area, I invite you to attend one of my orientations (you will be a guest- no paperwork :))

Monday, February 13, 2012

To check or not to check

So the question is should you do a background check on your volunteers? 
 What if they are Spontaneous Volunteers?  What if the internet is down?  What if…? There are many decision points to use in the decision making process.
First, what are they going to be doing on the disaster scene:
  • Sandbagging?
  • Working unloading trucks?
  • Doing door to door rescue? 
  • Working in a shelter? 
  • Or a medical setting? 
  • Or having access to survivors or victims personal information? 
I think the first two can probably get by without a serious background check, but the last four definitely call out for a serious background check. The closer your volunteers are to the survivors or sensitive information the more likely it is they need a check.

Second, what if I can't get the checks done (No electricity, connectivity, etc)?
Well the first answer is; this is a question you should explore with your risk managers and lawyers BEFORE the earth moves.
Of course one of the answers is do the paperwork (they don't have to know you can't run it; it may give the bad folks second thoughts about trying to sneak into your organization) before you put them in the field if it’s a catastrophic situation. 
Then keep them under supervision; maybe partnering them with volunteers you have checked.

  Third, what agency should you use?
Unfortunately, in many areas of the country (mine) there is no consensus about what type of background check to use.  And that's too bad, because it means there are volunteer groups that can't work in other volunteer groups areas. Check with your state/county emergency manager for guidance on whom to use.
As a point (not my recommendation or endorsement), The American Red Cross nationwide utilizes  This gives their agency the peace of mind to know that no matter where their volunteers deploy from, they all meet the same requirements. You may use the sheriff department or state highway patrol, a national agency or a private contractor.

Fourth how often should you renew the check? 
 Honestly this one will probably end up being about money.  While it is important to know that your volunteers haven't done anything bad, your lawyers/risk managers can answer this. However, it is an important question to ask/discuss.

Not the end of the conversation
 This is a hard subject and while some heated conversations can happen over this subject, I think we all agree that we want our volunteers to be the best.
I encourage you to have the conversation with your agency and with agencies; you collaborate with in training and disaster.

disaster dave

Friday, February 3, 2012

How to make volunteering more relevant

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How not to use volunteers

So I do hope that if you read this you already know how not to use volunteers; but I didn't feel like I could pass this topic without a few lines.
Crappy jobs- Yes volunteers do a bit of the things we don't want to or have the time to do.  But you have to make them understand how it fits into the big picture.  You also need to intersperse the not so fun tasks with the fun/exciting/high profile tasks.
The wrong job- Your volunteer signed up to do job or "task X", and you have them working on everything BUT that job/task.  That volunteer will leave soon. Take the time to interview and place them in the correct job.
Supplanting- Do not use volunteers to drive down your overhead by letting people go and replacing them with volunteers.  Even if you don't have unions, its not the right way to do things.  Use the volunteer to extend the reach of your employees. Utilize the skills of your volunteers to make your team stronger.

I can't say it enough that volunteers are valuable, if you do any of the things above, the word will get out and you will have a tough time getting/keeping one of your most valuable assets.