July 15, 2006 – In the event of a hurricane or any other disaster, natural or manmade, emergency responders won't have to look far for relief workers.
That's because the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency is establishing a cadre of volunteers via the Community Emergency Response Team's Medical Reserve Corps program, to assist whenever necessary.
On Saturday officials from agencies including VITEMA, V.I. National Guard, St. Croix Rescue and the V.I. Department of Health's Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response Program joined Dr. Bruce Marganoff, Medical Reserve Corps Region II coordinator, to kick off a two-day training titled USVI Territorial Citizens Corps Conference
About 60 participants gathered at the Central High School gym for the conference, which continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, is also scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 22 and 23 at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports Complex on St. Thomas.
The MRC program, once established, will coordinate the skills of practicing and retired physicians, nurses and other health employees; public and mental health professionals; as well as administrative and support staff, according to Allison Gittens, State Training and Exercise Officer/Citizens Corps program manager.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on this program as part of the National Response Plan and other incident management plans under the purview of the federal government. The ESAR-VHP program is being established by the Health Resources Service Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will be established by DOH's Public Health Preparedness Program and will consist of a database with credentialed health care professionals that can be called upon in an emergency to assist with public health care.
Gittens said that the idea for the MRC program was borne out of President Bush's State of the Union Address in 2002 when he called on all Americans to become volunteers and support their communities. To date, there are over 400 MRC units nationwide with plans to establish an MRC in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The MRC is dedicated to making sure that families and communities are safe from disasters of all kinds.
"We will be locally organized to donate our time and expertise to promote healthy living throughout the year and prepare to respond to emergencies," Gittens said.
During Saturday's conference, participants, most of which were taking refresher courses, sat through workshops on disaster preparedness, fire safety, search and rescue, disaster psychology and terrorism. Gittens said that they would also be credentialed in the National Incident Management System, which is mandated by the federal government for all emergency responders.
The goals of the local MRC, once up and running, will be to help promote disease prevention, improve health literacy, eliminate health disparities, assist the local hospitals and clinics with medical surge, assist the special-needs population either in designated shelters or with transportation, and to assist with vaccination exercises, drills and education to the public, Gittens aid.
Gittens said that everyone is encouraged to volunteer.
"If it's a local or national emergency, the Community Emergency Resource Team's first priority is to take care of themselves and their family; and once all is well, we expect them to go into the areas they're responsible for to basically assist in recovery and response," Gittens said.
She said that Saturday's participants ranged from teenagers to senior citizens with diverse backgrounds ranging from boy scouts and civil air patrol to health care, rescue and police.
"We are looking for active and retired persons with or without medical experience, counselors, clergy members, administrative and support staff, doctors, nurses, LPNs,
CNAs, dentists, hygienists and persons who are bilingual not only in Spanish but other languages as well," Gittens said.
Volunteers will be required to participate in training and education in order to adequately prepare for events if they occur.
"When you volunteer, you can make a difference," Gittens said. "You become known and identified as a professional resource; you will be credentialed to avoid frustration; and most importantly, you will be able to help other citizens care for themselves and their families in the time of a disaster."
To sign up for MRC, call 773-2240 on St. Croix; 774-2244 on St. Thomas
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