Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Look Back (1995) and Looking Forward

In 1995, "Obama Introduces Bill to Create National Emergency Volunteer Corps"

"... Unfortunately, my office has received numerous complaints from volunteer doctors that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not return their phone calls, did not have information on how they could volunteer, or simply referred them to local authorities who were not able to help them. Doctors who attempted to volunteer their services on the HHS website encountered significant difficulties as well. Such a lack of information and responsiveness is shocking during a time of emergency. Given the urgent need to get medical personnel to affected areas as soon as possible, I am writing to request that you direct DHS, FEMA, HHS, and all other relevant agencies to work with the Red Cross and hospitals in affected areas to eliminate any bureaucratic obstacles preventing much-needed services from getting to hurricane victims. This includes providing more detailed information to the medical profession about how they can volunteer their services, better coordination of volunteer doctors and nurses with the Red Cross and local hospitals, and waivers of liability for volunteer medical professionals. The health of too many people remains at risk, and bureaucratic red tape and run-arounds should not prevent these people from getting the help they need. Sincerely, Barack Obama United States Senator "

While programs such as the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) have been created, more progress needs to be made.

For example, when an MRC chapter plans to offer Psychological First Aid to MRC volunteers, does it not make sense to use a course that is widely available through a partner agency, such as the Red Cross? If there are elements that are specific to MRC, then add a brief supplement to the Red Cross course, not start from scratch. If something is developed, it needs to be easily made available to other MRC chapters.

In the past few years, we have seen many volunteers who have become very active in multiple organizations. From Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Volunteer Centers, Neighborhood Watch, Red Cross, Amateur Radio, etc. While the programs have all come to the table through Citizen Corps Council meetings, there has been less focus on the volunteers. Now, more than ever, there is a need to leverage those volunteers who are cross trained. These volunteers can form specialized "action" teams who can help coordinate volunteer efforts between multiple volunteer organizations.

There also needs to be greater focus on having all the volunteer organizations come together through a full scale exercise. During a disaster or major emergency is not the time to have all these trained volunteers work together for the first time. The exercises need to include government agencies, so the volunteers know where they fit, who they will be working with, and also the limitations.

This is not directed to any specific chapter of the MRC, Red Cross, or other Citizen Corps organization. It is directed towards change.

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