By Katie Roulston, Program Associate, Public Health Preparedness, and Kim Grimmick, M.Ed, Lead Analyst, eLearning
On August 19, the Virginia Department of Social Services conducted a State Managed Shelter Exercise at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and NACCHO staff members Katie Roulston and Kim Grimmick attended the exercise. During this exercise, state, local, and national representatives were in attendance including staff from NACCHO and four Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units representing Arlington, Alexandria, Loudon, and Fairfax. The purpose of this event was to establish a learning environment for players to exercise emergency response plans, policies, and procedures as they pertain to a major hurricane, especially valuable given the mid-Atlantic region’s increased exposure to several hurricanes in the past few years.
During the exercise, participants had the option of being an ‘observer’ or an ‘actor.’ The dual participation option allowed for bystanders to provide feedback on the overall cohesiveness of the drill and for the actor to provide feedback based on their specific role. MRC volunteers from Virginia were major players in this exercise. One scenario called for a number of MRC members to act as if they were facilitators from an adult group home, requiring them to guide patients (additional MRC actors) with varied disabilities into the shelter. Various health assessment questions were asked at check-in including: Are you on any types of medications? Do you have any special dietary needs? This scenario prompted the Health Services Unit to take a deeper look at critical questions and brainstorm additional questions that would be helpful when addressing vulnerable populations during a real-world event. The Health Services Unit is coordinated by Fairfax County Health Department which included 2 MRC registered nurses and 1 non-medical MRC administrator.
Goals for this exercise included demonstrations of:
- Human and pet registration and intake (Mass Care Services);
- Health assessment and monitoring to include behavioral health (Public Health and Medical Services);
- Hospitality/dormitory services (Mass Care Services; Public Health and Medical Services);
- The capability of Virginia State Police and its support agencies to maintain security, order and discipline (On-Scene Security and Protection); and
- The internal, external, and security communications capabilities and interoperability (Operational Communications).
Seventy-two percent of MRC volunteers have medical training and 41 percent have responded to an emergency in 2012, highlighting the importance of their participation in these exercises. The medical expertise, emergency response experience, and training backgrounds that make up the MRC makes them a valuable resource for participating in response exercises and for carrying lessons learned into a real response. Many exercise participants remarked on how they valued the opportunity to train and exercise their skills, and to collaborate with the partner organizations they would likely work with during an emergency. NACCHO appreciated the invitation from Fairfax County Health Department (VA) because it allowed staff to see the various roles community stakeholders play during an emergency and to better understand the importance of communication during shelter operations.