Preparing for and responding to emergencies has become an enormous challenge facing health providers, public officials, and private citizens alike. Yet it is a critical endeavor, involving precise planning and training, different scenarios, significant resources, and thousands of individuals.
The events of September 11, 2001 raised the country’s consciousness about emergency planning and response and led to the formation of groups across the country dedicated to emergency preparedness. The kinds of events public officials and the public now had to consider went far beyond natural disasters, infectious disease, or severe storms.
How emergency preparedness works is the topic of the December edition of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society. Guests for the show are Mary Clark, Director of the Emergency Preparedness Bureau of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Suzanne Salamon, M.D., a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston and volunteer; and Dawn Sibor, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Brookline Public Health Department. Hosted by James Kenealy, M.D., the program examines how the state and local communities in Massachusetts prepare for and respond to emergencies.
The state Department of Public Health, says Ms. Clark, “coordinates the work around planning for health and medical issues that would come up in an emergency.” In events declared emergencies, DPH would work with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the federal Centers for Disease Control, as well as local and state organizations, to provide for the health and safety of residents.
The current structure of preparedness in the Commonwealth includes local and regional Medical Reserve Corps, comprised of medical and nonmedical personnel who volunteer in emergencies, and the Massachusetts System for Advanced Registration, a DPH program that recruits and registers licensed health care professionals to assist in emergencies.
Now a new entity has been established -- Mass Responds -- an umbrella organization designed to align the policies and procedures for both the MRCs and MSAR. The goal is to provide better coordination and efficiency in responding to emergencies.
Emergency preparedness is critical, says Ms. Clark, and not only for the health and safety of residents during emergencies. There’s an extended benefit as well. “Creating strong volunteer programs really improves community resiliency,” she says. “With these efforts, you strengthen the community as a whole, and it makes it easier for communities to recover after emergencies.”
Dr. Salamon and Ms. Sibor, representing the Brookline Medical Reserve Corps, describe how the MRC works at the local level and the value that it brings to the community and to those who are part of the effort. The Brookline MRC has enlisted some 185 volunteers, with about a third of those being medical personnel. Training is provided for all volunteers, who run the gamut from young to old, working to retired.
The group prepares for and responds to many different kinds of events, from small events like health fairs to emergencies such as the H1N1 outbreak of 2009-2010. “We need people with all different skills,” says Ms. Sibor, who
cites one common thread among all the volunteers: “they want to help.”
For Dr. Salamon, a busy physician who has been volunteering with the Brookline MRC for five years, flexibility is a key, allowing her to help on nights and weekends. But most of all, she’s impressed with everyone’s professionalism and the impact the effort has on the community. “Everyone’s role
is important,” she says. “It is really a team effort. And it provides great reassurance to the community, knowing that people care about emergency preparedness.”
Watch the accompanying video for more details and discussion on how Massachusetts and its local communities prepare for and respond to emergencies and to find out how you can be part of this effort in your community.