Fairfax County is looking for a few good volunteers.
The county’s health department is seeking a total of 3,000 new volunteers for the Medical Response Team, a program run through the Fairfax County Citizens Corps which was established in 2003 to supplement emergency teams in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
"The Medical Reserve Corps is an all-volunteer program established out of the Surgeon General’s office after September 11 and the anthrax scare to help augment the public health system’s capability to respond to widespread health disasters," said Donna Foster, the MRC coordinator at the Health Department.
Volunteers do not need to have any medical background at all, she said, as they will be trained through the MRC program to perform inoculations should a biochemical attack take place. "The main function of the Corps is to be trained and ready to respond in case of an attack or epidemic when we would need to vaccinate hundreds or thousands of people in a short time."
If something happened requiring residents to be vaccinated against a biological agent or chemical warfare, these trained volunteers would establish clinics inside schools to disperse the inoculations, Foster said.
"In the case of a small event, like the anthrax scare, we know who’s affected and where to go to give the medication," she said. "This is for medical and biological emergencies. The trauma unit would still respond to something like the 9/11 attacks."
The Medical Reserve Corps is currently seeking to double its volunteer numbers from a little over 3,000 to 6,000 by the end of June, a challenge taken to heart by Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois.
"Chairman Gerry Connolly announced the volunteer drive at the April 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, but no one said anything more about it," DuBois said.
She took it upon herself to make the challenge personal and pledged to personally sign up 100 volunteers by the June 30 deadline.
"Anyone who’s got some extra time should sign up," she said, adding that she has encouraged all her staff members to become volunteers. "We need medical and nonmedical people, plus there’s a need for people who can do administrative types of things."
DuBois’ office has sent a letter detailing the challenge and the need for volunteers to homeowners groups in McLean and Great Falls, along with civic organizations like the McLean Citizens Association and the Great Falls Citizens Association, she said.
"The MCA is very much into it," she said. "We’re sending letters and e-mails to all the homeowners associations. It doesn’t take much time, and the training is minimal. You can do it in a day or an evening."
DuBois said she was not sure if other supervisors had accepted her challenge or had begun their own drives, but if each supervisor signed up 100 people, that would mean 1,000 new volunteers for the Medical Reserve Corps.
"It’s an initiative that’s already out there," she said. "We just thought we’d do our part in our office."
FOSTER SAID she appreciates DuBois campaign for volunteers but is not sure that will be enough of a push to reach the goal of 3,000 more people.
"We’re thrilled that the Board of Supervisors got involved to help us," she said.
The Fairfax County Citizen Corps has four initiatives to supplement local emergency responders and help keep communities safe, said Merrily Pierce, chair of the Corps.
"We hope we’ll never have to do a mass inoculation, but if we do we estimate we’d need 12,000 volunteers" to give inoculations to the more than one million residents of Fairfax County within three to five days, she said.
Pierce is confident the support of the volunteer drive through the Board of Supervisors will help the Corps achieve its goal.
"They’ve helped us meet other goals in the past," she said. "We’re delighted that they’re helping us out again."
People who live in the vicinity of a school would find it in their best interest to sign up to volunteer, she said, as they would be closest to the clinics if needed.
"The training is done at Marshall High School for the most part, which is great for the Dranesville, Hunter Mill and Providence districts," she said. "The training takes a total of three to six hours, depending on the program."
Volunteers have several programs to choose from, she said, including sessions for medical professionals, training for language interpreters, volunteer coordinators, administrative assistants and some teaching leadership skills to direct teams in the case of a disaster, she said.
The goal of 3,000 volunteers would still only supply about half of the hands needed overall, she said. "This is an ongoing drive, so if anyone misses the June 30 deadline, we’ll happily accept more volunteers," Pierce said.
A volunteer from the early days of the Medical Reserve Corps, Yvonne Knauff has spent more than thirty years working as a nurse practitioner and, after retiring, wanted to do something that allowed her to use her skills.
"I reached out to volunteer long before this drive came out because it fit my style and my background," she said. "When you see a need and you’re in the helping professions, you feel you can help out and sign up."
The training for non-medical professionals is "easy to understand and very well done," she said. "The programming they provide and the lecturers do a great job" presenting the pertinent information.
"This program is still work in progress," Knauff said. "If a disaster happens, of course there’s going to be chaos and panic and fear, but if we have people trained and ready to help out, that might dissipate a little."
ADDITIONALLY, the Medical Reserve Corps program is consistent on a state and federal level, so if a person is trained as a volunteer in Fairfax County and moves out of the area, the training will still be valid, she said.
"This is only one aspect of our programs," Pierce said. "We also have our neighborhood watch program, which has an emergency preparedness aspect to it, along with the Communications Emergency Response Team, the Volunteer In Police Service program and of course the Medical Response Corps," she said, adding the Citizens Corps has decided to take "an all-hazards approach" to being prepared.
Currently there are 500 neighborhood watch programs throughout Fairfax County, along with 120 Communications Emergency Response Team members and 90 Volunteers in Police Service members, she said. "Fairfax County is safer and stronger because of the Citizens Corps. We’re safer as individuals, as a community and as a county."
Fairfax County’s Medical Reserve Corps is seen as a national model, said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, M. D., M.P.H, director of the county’s health department.
"Soon after the anthrax scare following the September 11 attacks, we in the health department found out very quickly that if a large scale anthrax event happened, we wouldn’t have nearly enough people to carry out an operation" to care for those affected, she said.
That realization led to her starting an organization focused on preparing for a large-scale biomedical or biochemical disaster, a precursor for the Medical Reserve Corps program.
"The current Medical Reserve program grew out of what we had before, but this is more in line with what’s happening nationally with the push to standardized medical responses," she said.
Volunteers who enlist in the organization will receive all the training they’ll need, she said, and those who wish can be cross-trained to be useful in several aspects of the planned response team.
"In the event of a disaster or an emergency, people always want to spontaneously help," Addo-Ayensu said. "If we have a corps of trained people ready to go, it will be so much easier to have them assimilated into the system if and when we need them."
And it’s much easier to cut back on the number of volunteers needed at any given time than it would be to recruit more people if there’s not enough in time of emergency, she said.
The next general orientation class is scheduled to be held at Marshall High School on Tuesday, June 21 from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. Classes are held once a month, with more specialized training classes scheduled by each individual instructor. More information on the Medical Reserve Corps and the Fairfax Citizens Corps is available at www.fairfaxmrc.org or fairfaxcountycitizenscorps.com.