Innovation across the MRC Network Helps Local Communities be More Prepared for Emerging Threats

By Alyson Jordan, MPA, Communications Specialist, and Stacy Stanford, MSPH, Senior Program Analyst, Public Health Preparedness, NACCHO

NACCHO launched “MRC Connect,” the first social media platform for the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), on October 16, presenting a new way for the MRC network to connect with others, share what is happening in nearly 1,000 U.S. communities in real-time, and identify emerging threats. Similar to Facebook and LinkedIn, MRC Connect has a web version and a mobile application that is now available for download in the Apple iTunes store and in the Google Play market.

Look for the MRC Connect mobile icon in the Apple iTunes store or Google Play market

Look for the MRC Connect mobile icon in the Apple iTunes store or Google Play market

Available for the 1,000 MRC unit coordinators across all 50 states and territories, MRC Connect enhances and simplifies information sharing about public health preparedness and emergency response best practices. It was developed to strengthen the ability of MRC unit coordinators, volunteers, and local health departments to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies including diseases like Ebola and the flu, natural disasters such as hurricanes, and acts of terrorism.

NACCHO began development on MRC Connect in September 2013 to build an online and mobile community of practice for the MRC network. In light of decreased in-person training opportunities and increased community emergencies requiring assistance from the MRC, a new tool was necessary to foster peer-to-peer learning. NACCHO worked with Rallyware, a technology startup with expertise in developing applications for decentralized networks, to build MRC Connect so that it was responsive to MRC unit leaders’ needs in the field. NACCHO also engaged a group of unit leaders to provide feedback about the functionality and design of the application throughout the entire development process. The result was an application that facilitates best practice sharing, in-depth discussions, and personal connections through badges for the completion of tasks, community discussion forums, and private messaging.

Since its launch, users have taken to MRC Connect to share their stories about effective emergency preparedness activities, volunteer recruitment and training tactics, and current events, all in real-time. Community forums on the MRC Connect have also provided a secure outlet for MRC unit leaders to discuss emergent threats in their communities, such as ways to educate the community about Ebola and Enterovirus, earthquake preparedness procedures, and more.

All over the country, MRC units are reaching new populations, working with inventive partners, and expanding their work outside of the typical public health and emergency preparedness activities. Now in its 12th year, the MRC continues to innovate through the ways that volunteers serve their communities as a valuable resource in public health, emergency preparedness, and response for local health departments. In addition to MRC Connect, innovation continues throughout the MRC network with the contributions of NACCHO’s 2013-2014 MRC Challenge awardees. Earlier this year, NACCHO, in partnership with the Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps, selected 29 MRC units to receive the first ever MRC Challenge Awards, totaling nearly $600,000 in funding. Now more than six months into their projects, awardees are demonstrating the real value that innovative investments in communities can have. These projects have revealed new ways that MRC units work within their communities to achieve the goal of increased safety and better health.

For example, in Rhode Island, 2,016 individuals, including state troopers and other law enforcement, have been trained on how to recognize and properly respond to an opioid overdose, which has already saved a life. In Massachusetts, the Brookline Department of Public Health MRC is working within the LGBTQ student community, a population with increased levels of stress and substance use, to promote youth wellness through tools and resources for parents, students, and teachers. And in Maryland, the Maryland Responds MRC is partnering with the Maryland Institute College of Art for help with messaging and materials that are designed to reach target populations and build community resilience through a public information campaign. These are all areas that MRC units traditionally have not worked in before and thanks to NACCHO’s support, now serve as a model for innovative practices that other units can replicate.

Since the start of the project year, Challenge awardees have been blogging about their successes and challenges so that other communities can learn from their experiences. These lessons learned will help units that are interested in implementing similar projects in their community and also inform the next round of projects for the 2014-2015 Challenge Award. Does your local health department have an MRC unit? If so, apply now for the 2014-2015 NACCHO MRC Awards. The application is open now through Nov. 7.

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