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Volunteer for emergency preparedness

Recently, a diverse group of emergency responders participated in an earthquake disaster response drill. But while the professionals train to respond to disasters, community members also have a vital role. Emergency preparedness needs to happen in the home, the workplace and the community.

Within the first 72 hours after a disaster or emergency, we have to rely on our own resources. Those first few days we have to help ourselves because outside aid cannot be mustered and mobilized that quickly. Once aid arrives, we must have the infrastructure in place to determine where assistance is most needed. During an emergency, it is best to stay off the phone and off the streets so emergency workers can have full access to those most in need.

The best place to start emergency preparedness is at home. Knowing that your loved ones are safe and that you are prepared at home for an emergency or disaster is the first step to helping others. Now is a good time to review or establish a personal and family preparedness plan. For more information on disaster preparedness, check out the emergency resource guide from the Department of Health at www.doh.wa.gov/phepr/handbook.htm or the local American Red Cross website at www.redcross.org

Our community is very caring and generous, and many people want to help and volunteer in meaningful ways when they see others suffering. Many relief organizations require that volunteers register ahead of time, attend an orientation, go through a background check, and receive training to help in a disaster. Organizations dealing with licensed medical volunteers also have to make sure that their volunteers have the necessary credentials and are trained to help as part of a team. During past emergencies and disasters around the world, local trained volunteers have deployed to help.

One unique opportunity to volunteer in Thurston County is with the Thurston County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). The corps is a group of medical and nonmedical volunteers who respond to public health issues in times of disaster or emergency. Volunteers also help strengthen the community by providing ongoing training, public health education, and preparedness. There are roles for both medical volunteers and nonmedical volunteers.

Volunteers who are active or retired medical or health professionals may provide screening, triage, direct care and basic life support. These volunteers must be licensed health professionals in Washington state. Nonmedical volunteers support emergency response activities, but do not perform medical care. Duties may include inventory, supply management, call center support, clerical/administrative support, and numerous other critical job duties needed during emergencies.

If you wish to volunteer but have not yet signed up to do so, now is a good time to act on it. You can make a difference in Thurston County. We look forward to hearing from you. To join or learn more, see our website at www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/admin/preparedness/mrc.html or contact Sue Poyner at 360-867-2551 or poyners@co.thurston.wa.us.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. She can be reached at 360-867-2501 or yud@co.thurston.wa.us.

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