“It’s all about being prepared when your day doesn’t go as planned.”
A few weeks ago, I sat with Cheryl, the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Brookline Health Department. Cheryl runs the Brookline unit of the Medical Reserve Corps.
The MRC, according to their website, is a “community-based, civilian, volunteer program that helps build the public health infrastructure of communities nationwide.” There are 989 community-based units nationwide.
One of my friends in the League of Women Voters of Brookline had recommended I contact Cheryl to hear about the MRC, and I’m really glad I did. The MRC is a phenomenal community service opportunity for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have a medical license. I’m excited to share more info about it with you, and I highly recommend you consider volunteering for it.
This is how it works. You sign up as a volunteer, participate in training, and get added to a database of volunteers. At certain times, you would be contacted with a volunteer request. It’s a low-level commitment and volunteering in any given circumstance is up to you and your availability.
The types of situations vary. Volunteers respond to apartment fires, hail and ice storms, blizzards, and other natural disasters. They have tents at the Boston Marathon and provide public health education and outreach throughout the year. This fall, the MRC has 3 flu clinics planned.
As I was sitting there, I thought: wow, this would be so great, IF I were a medical professional. I can’t administer flu vaccines! I wouldn’t feel the least bit comfortable handling any medical equipment.
But have no fear. Cheryl said that there’s work for everyone to do. Actually, there are always logistical tasks in emergency response. From what I’ve heard, the MRC is great at matching up volunteer’s qualifications and strengths with their roles in the Corps. For example, if a hailstorm were to shatter windows in an apartment building, MRC volunteers would help direct tenants to temporary shelter or the Red Cross. As the coordinator, Cheryl gets to know volunteers’ strengths and how each volunteer can best help.
In emergency situations, there tend to be “helpers,” or people who run towards the emergency. They’re spontaneous volunteers. Even with the best intentions, helpers can cause confusion. That’s what makes the MRC so important. It brings together helpers and gives them the pathway and training to serve in terms of crisis.
The training sessions are fascinating. There’s typically one per month from September through May. Just to give you a small glimpse of the full scope of sessions you could attend, here are some previous topics:
- Building Emotional Resilience
- CPR/First Aid
- Building Relationships for Effective Communication
- Reducing the Fatal Overdose: Community Policing and Public Health
- Emergency Preparedness for Parents of Children with Disabilities and Special Healthcare Needs
- 2015 Nepal Earthquake: An on the Ground Perspective in Nepal
And they’re all FREE!
Often, the MRC collaborates with the Brookline Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT programs are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Similar to the MRC, CERT volunteers provide a crucial service to the community. They give “critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site.” In Brookline, the MRC and CERT coordinators work closely together to optimize their services.
To see whether there’s a CERT program in your area, check out this link.
The MRC also serves the community in another capacity: through the Emergency Preparedness (EP) Buddies Program.
Tragically, in 1995, about 700 people died in Chicago during a heat wave. Many of those who passed away were elders living alone in social isolation. Without anyone checking in on them, they fell victim to heat-related health issues.
Since then, communities like Brookline have developed programs to look out for the safety and preparedness of elders. Through the EP Buddies Program, the MRC and CERT assess a Brookline elders’ individual level of preparedness, and match him or her up with a preparedness buddy.
As a preparedness buddy, a volunteer will identify his or her elder buddy’s needs, set up communication plans, and prepare supplies for potential evacuations. Often, buddies will prepare a bag with essential materials–medications, toiletries, clothing, etc–and leave it at the elder’s front door. That way, Heaven forbid, there’s an emergency, the elder will be ready to just grab the bag and head out as quickly as possible to get to a safe location.
Interested in becoming a buddy? Here’s the brochure. To become one, you first will sign up for the MRC and complete the training. As I previously mentioned, the trainings are fascinating.
National Preparedness Month
September is National Preparedness Month so don’t wait! This is a fantastic time of year to get started. In fact, there’s an information session for the Brookline MRC and CERT coming up. Here are the details, so you can add it to your calendar right now:
Date: Thursday, September 15th
Location: Community Room of the Public Safety Building, 350 Washington Street, Brookline, MA
By the way, there will also be light refreshments! Check out the Facebook page to RSVP for the session and learn more.
September often feels like the start to a new year. Friends are moving to new apartments, students are starting a new year of school, and we’re inching towards the beautiful, delightfully colorful season of fall.
Consider making a September Resolution to provide a critical service to your community, and sign up to volunteer for the MRC or CERT. They’re not just in Brookline — they’re nationwide.
And hey, if you’re moving into a new community and want to get to know your new surroundings, this is an especially great opportunity for you to get involved. Add it to your moving list and make it happen!
One last time, here’s the page where you can search for the MRC unit closest to you.
It never hurts to be prepared.