By Katherine Deffer, NACCHO Senior Program Analyst
In commemoration of National Preparedness Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is highlighting five themes for each week of September, emphasizing the various aspects of effective preparedness. Each week, the NACCHO Preparedness team is authoring a blog to promote the theme and provide local health departments and other partner agencies with context and resources to share with the communities they serve. This week’s theme is “Prepare Locally.” Make sure to also read our first two posts highlighting the themes of “Prepare to Respond,” and “Prepare Globally.”
Catastrophic occurrences in the last decade, like Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, served as an incentive for many Americans to become more involved in helping prepare their communities in the event of a public health emergency. Citizen Corps is one way private citizens can learn about engagement opportunities and promote building capacity for first responders and other preparedness resources. Through Citizen Corps and its partner organizations, civilians can gain access to free public education and training to become valuable volunteers expanding resources available to states and local communities.
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), is part of the Citizen Corps umbrella and a particularly useful resource for those interested in volunteer opportunities in the public health preparedness field. The MRC is a national network of local volunteer groups or “units” who work with their states and communities to improve public health, decrease vulnerability, improve emergency capabilities, and build resilience. With nearly 200,000 dedicated volunteers enrolled in almost 1,000 units across all 50 U.S. states and territories, the MRC is a significant asset to the nation’s public health and emergency preparedness efforts. Due to the critical role of state and local health departments in this field, their staff often relies on MRC volunteers to assist them in various capacities. One recent example is the spread of the Zika virus in South and Central America, and reports of the first U.S. transmission in Miami, Florida. As local health officials are responding to this rapidly growing crisis, many are deploying MRC volunteers to assist in a variety of areas. To support health departments, the national MRC Program Office developed resources guiding effective utilization of MRC volunteers for a variety of Zika related preparedness and response roles including:
- Community outreach and health education
- Call center staffing
- Distribution of Zika-related supplies
- Vector surveillance and control
- Epidemiology and surveillance efforts
- Behavioral health
- Research assistance such as blood draws, data collection and interviews
- Youth engagement
Loudoun County, Virginia is home to one of the many successful partnerships involving an MRC Unit and the local health department for Zika response. The Loudoun MRC with support from the Loudoun Department of Health, recently received an MRC Challenge Award focused on combating Zika through a Community Ambassador Project. The project goals include:
- Promote community health resiliency through a focused community effort to reach residents (especially high risk residents) with resources on ways to stay safe from the emerging threat of the Zika virus.
- Enhance communication with residents, especially hard to reach populations and establish new communication opportunities to improve the ability to protect the health of all Loudon County residents from Zika associated risks.
- Identify and mitigate breeding groups for the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the mosquito breed known as the most common carrier of the Zika Virus in the United States.
Loudoun County’s MRC volunteers are crucial in supporting this project by leading efforts of partnering with local and regional entities to disseminate critical safety and testing information, removing mosquito breeding grounds (e.g. standing water) from common property, and establishing communication networks focusing on the local high risk and hard to reach populations as additional public health threats arise. To date over 84 MRC volunteers have been deployed to assist in Zika prevention efforts.
Local health officials, MRC Unit volunteers, and other partner stakeholders are highly encouraged to share all of their preparedness efforts, resources, and community engagement events throughout National Preparedness Month. Both LHDs and MRC Units are invited to take the NACCHO Preparedness Pledge, participate in our National Preparedness Month Photo Contest, and submit an abstract for our upcoming 2017 Preparedness Summit.