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Want a more resilient community? Start by improving public health in your neighborhood.

Author: Jaya Bhatt, M.S. M.P.H. Junior Management Analyst, Office of Policy and Planning, Division of Policy and Strategic Planning, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 4/6/2016 2:18:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Response & Recovery; Exercises & Trainings;

Think about all of the things that go into making our nation more secure and enhancing our well-being.  What do you think is at the foundation?  For President Obama, it’s public health.  And, you don’t need to be in the medical community to be active in your community and play a vital role in enhancing public health outcomes following disasters.

Healthy communities – the ones where people get outside, know their neighbors, and work together toward common goals – bounce back more effectively when disaster strikes.  They have strong systems to promote health every day and the community relies on those same systems when a disaster strikes.

You are a part of that system – whether you think about it or not.  For example, do you know your neighbors?  When the lights go out, do you check on the people that you know might need some extra help, like people with disabilities, elderly neighbors, or pregnant women?  If your neighbor has a child in your son or daughter’s class, have you talked about ways that you might help each other if a disaster strikes during the day and someone is unable to pick up their kids? And does your child’s school know about that plan? Every time you reach out and to help or plan to help people in your community before, during or after a disaster, you are helping to make your community healthier and more secure. If you haven’t already discussed “what ifs” with friends and neighbors, this week is National Public Health Week, and it’s a good time to start those conversations.

Knowing your neighbors, planning with them, and being willing to help is really important.  But if you want to do more to strengthen health in your community, there are many great volunteering opportunities that can help you do just that.  By giving your time, bringing your perspective of your community, and being willing to work as part of a team, you can help make your community healthier and more secure.

There are many great organizations that work in your community to promote health and others that focus on community connectedness and resilience.  Find one that feels right to you and think about ways that you can work with them to make your community healthier during disasters and every day.

Having trouble deciding?  The Medical Reserve Corps probably has some great options in your community.  The Medical Reserve Corps is a national network of local groups of volunteers engaging local communities to strengthen public health, reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and improve preparedness, response and recovery capabilities.  MRC volunteers promote everyday health through projects like vaccination clinics, training community members in CPR/first aid, and even providing psychological first aid training.

Many MRC units find really creative ways to combine preparing for the next disaster with keeping their communities safe today.  For example, the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps supported the Annual Bataan Memorial Death March as a “planned mass casualty event.”  Because the 26.2 mile march is so tough, the MRC knows that many people will need medical attention in a setting that bears a striking resemblance to a disaster – and so they help the community while testing their disaster plans. Another MRC in New York partnered with their local government to test their mass vaccination plans using a drive-thru point of distribution exercise.

MRC volunteers also step in to help when their communities need them most.  MRC volunteers in Puerto Rico are teaching people in the community about the risks posed by Zika virus.  MRC volunteers have helped respond to natural disasters and disease outbreaks in communities across the country.

Building healthy communities helps strengthen us all.  Healthy communities are places where we can come together to grow stronger – physically and mentally.  They are places where people support each other.  There are many ways that you can help to make your community stronger – getting to know your community and volunteering are just a couple of them. 

Have you found other ways to make your community healthier and more secure during disasters and every day?  Share your stories in a comment on the blog.


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