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Serving through the Storm: Choosing the Right Service Organization

Author: ASPR/OPP Division of Policy and Strategic Planning
Published Date: 6/14/2017 12:14:00 PM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

It’s hurricane season – and NOAA anticipates more hurricanes this year than usual. In many parts of the country, that means people are topping off their emergency supplies and revisiting their emergency plans. At least we hope so! This is also a great time to choose to volunteer or join a service organization.​

By choosing to serve on a response team before a hurricane strikes in your community, you are more likely to be ready to help when seconds count. Disasters are dangerous and the situation changes quickly. If you want to be ready to help, you need to work with your team and complete training before a disaster strikes.​

There are many different service organizations that help people and communities stay healthy, strong and resilient as they face what may be some of their worst days. But choosing the right fit for your skills can be a challenge. The Medical Reserve Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams, and the National Disaster Medical System offer three very different ways to make a difference.​

Medical Reserve Corps

Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers serve in local units to improve the health and safety of their communities. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals, as well as community members without healthcare backgrounds.

MRC units engage volunteers to strengthen public health, improve emergency response capabilities and build community resilience. In their states and communities, they prepare for and respond to natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, and floods, as well as other emergencies affecting public health, such as disease outbreaks. They also work to improve community health through educational programs, vaccine clinics and other health activities.​

MRC is a great option for people who want to engage in making their communities healthier during disasters and every day. The MRC network comprises 990 community-based units and almost 200,000 volunteers located throughout the United States and its territories. Interested? Take a few minutes to learn more and find a MRC unit near you!​

Community Emergency Response Teams

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program helps train people to respond to emergency situations in their communities.​

You start by taking a course taught in the community by a trained team of first responders who have completed FEMA’s CERT Train-the-Trainer course. CERT training includes disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, and light search and rescue operations.​

Using training learned in the classroom and gained during exercises, CERT volunteers can help people in their communities after disaster. Teams work on a wide range of projects. You might help triage and treat patients, conduct an initial damage assessment, staff an emergency shelter, or even clear debris.​

CERT volunteers also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking an active role in emergency preparedness projects, like conducting or supporting threat assessments, teaching other community members to stay safe by winterizing their homes or installing smoke detectors, or helping out at community events.​

To learn more, check out the CERT website then find a team near you!​

National Disaster Medical System

Disaster can overwhelm the capacity of state, local tribal, territorial and private sector health professionals. When that happens, the National Disaster Medical System deploys professionals to these communities to help fill the gaps, augmenting health and medical systems and response capabilities.​

​The men and women who serve with NDMS provide the best of care in the worst of times, helping to protect health and save lives during large-scale disasters. They are called into service from around the country to decompress an overtaxed hospital emergency department, provide the fatality management services that bring closure for friends and families, move patients out of harm’s way and into hospitals that can care for them, and more.

​NDMS professionals also serve behind the scenes at many large-scale national events, like the Presidential Inauguration or Republican and Democratic National Conventions, where a cadre of trained medical professionals must be on-hand and ready to provide help when seconds count.

Unlike MRC and CERT, NDMS isn’t a volunteer organization. Health and support professionals who join NDMS become intermittent federal employees, called into service and paid to deploy during disasters; they hold non-federal jobs the rest of the year, much like military reserves. In order to become an intermittent federal NDMS team member, you need to search for an opportunity that is right for you and apply.​

Preparing to Serve

Of course, you can’t help others if you or your family needs help, so you need to make sure that you have a plan in place. Before a disaster strikes, make sure that you create a family plan, learn to evacuate safely, and ensure food safety at home.​

If you have children, especially small children, talk to your spouse, family members, friends and neighbors before a disaster strikes about caring for the kids if you’re called to respond to a disaster. Knowing that your family is taken care of can give you the peace of mind you’ll need to help others.​

​Getting involved is just one way to strengthen national health security. To learn more, visit www.PHE.gov/NHSS.


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