Frequently Asked Questions

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The MRC program was created after President Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, in which he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country. The MRC is comprised of organized medical and public health professionals who serve as volunteers to respond to natural disasters and emergencies. These volunteers assist communities nationwide during emergencies and for ongoing efforts in public health. The need for trained supplemental medical and public health personnel to assist with emergency operations was highlighted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many medical and public health professionals sought to support emergency relief efforts, but there was no organized approach to channel their efforts. The MRC program provides the structure necessary to deploy medical and public health personnel in response to an emergency, as it identifies specific, trained, credentialed personnel available and ready to respond to emergencies.

Each community is different, and these differences may require alternative approaches to natural disasters and emergencies. The terms "medical" and "reserve" indicate that trained personnel are available to respond to emergencies requiring support to the community's health and medical resources. "Corps" refers to an organized body of individuals with a similar function, in keeping with the example of Citizen Corps and the USA Freedom Corps. Despite differences among communities, all communities can benefit from the MRC and can understand the MRC similarly. The "medical" in Medical Reserve Corps does not limit MRC units to medical professionals. Individuals without medical training can fill essential supporting roles.

The United States is divided into 10 MRC regions, which contain any number of local MRC units. Personnel at the state level coordinate with the 10 MRC Regional Coordinators and those at the local level. MRC units represent those at the local level, as they are responsible for implementing volunteer capabilities for emergency medical response and public health initiatives to match specific community needs. Santa Barbara County's MRC is in Region IX.

The direction of the MRC program exists at the national, state, and local levels. Each level has key personnel responsible for overseeing activities at their respective level. At the local level, each MRC unit is led by an MRC Unit Coordinator, who matches community needs—for emergency medical response and public health initiatives—with volunteer capabilities. Local coordinators are also responsible for building partnerships, ensuring the sustainability of the local unit, and managing the volunteer resources.

Sponsored by the Office of the Surgeon General, the MRC coordinates its efforts with several groups and has multiple affiliates. The MRC is a specialized component of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Peace Corps are part of the President's USA Freedom Corps, which promotes volunteerism and service throughout the nation.

The MRC is a specialized component of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Communities benefit from having MRC volunteers ready to respond to emergencies. People volunteer for many reasons, but some volunteer for the MRC because:

  • It's a way to offer their skills that might not have been used before because they were not adequately prepared to be part of the response effort.
  • It's a significant benefit to communities because skilled volunteers offer services during the year to augment existing public health efforts or provide emergency backup that would not otherwise be available.
  • It's a chance to belong to a group with a strong sense of mission and purpose.
  • It's a chance to qualify for special incentives (e.g., free training).
  • Volunteers are at the very heart of the MRC. The existence of this nationwide, community-based movement is due to the willingness of volunteer medical and public health professionals to serve their communities in times of need. Without that generous offer of service, there would be no MRC.

The MRC program will soon establish core competencies, possibly using elements of the American Red Cross basic training. MRC leaders and volunteers will be surveyed about their experiences and their lessons learned and asked to assist with the development of core competencies (other items to be developed include standard operating procedures for local, state, and national activations; credentialing guidelines; and standardized identification badges).

Emergency preparedness and response is a highly coordinated effort that allows communities to maximize their capabilities during times of extraordinary disorganization and stress. Volunteers may already know how to perform some of the necessary medical and health functions. In most cases, training as an MRC volunteer focuses primarily on learning local emergency and health procedures, trauma response techniques, Incident Command System (ICS), National Incident Management System (NIMS), use of specialized equipment, and other methods to enhance volunteer effectiveness.

Perhaps the most important part of training is learning how to work as a team member. An organized, well-trained MRC unit is familiar with its community's response plan, knows what materials are available, knows its response partners, and knows where its skills can be put to best use in a coordinated manner.

All MRC volunteers need to undergo orientation to the MRC, which includes an overview of the system in which the MRC's activities occur, whether in relation to emergency response or public health, or both. Training requirements for service volunteers is typically extensive and specialized. Generally, these volunteers receive training in primary emergency response and public health procedures, including basic life support and CPR; Community Emergency Response Team training; identifying the signs, symptoms, and treatment of hazardous materials (including nuclear, biological, and chemical agents); and basic first aid skills to deal with emergencies such as shock, allergic reactions, bleeding, broken bones, burns, chemical splashes, choking, eye injuries, skin wounds, dislocations, head trauma, heat exhaustion, stroke, and poisoning.

The MRC program seeks volunteers to assist with emergency preparedness and response efforts. Volunteers in the MRC program include:

  • Practicing, retired, or otherwise employed medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, nurses' assistants, and others.
  • Public health professionals.
  • Community members without medical training can assist with administrative and other essential support functions.

Major emergencies can overwhelm the capabilities of first responders, particularly during the first 12 to 72 hours. Medical and other health volunteers can provide an important "surge" capacity during this critical period. They also can augment medical staff shortages at local medical and emergency facilities. In short, communities often need medically trained individuals to fill in the gaps in their emergency response plans and to improve their response capabilities overall.

Possible types of "front-line" medical and public health volunteers include:

    Physicians (including surgeons, medical specialists, osteopaths)

    Physician Assistants

    Nurses (nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants)

    Pharmacists

    Dentists

    Dental Assistants

    Optometrists

    Veterinarians

    Emergency medical technicians

    Public health workers

    Epidemiologists

    Infectious disease specialists

    Toxicologists

    Mental health practitioners (psychologists, substance abuse counselors, social workers)

    Health educators/communicators

    Other medical and public health professionals

Although the MRC volunteers are ready to respond to disasters or emergencies, part of the MRC program's mission is to foster disaster preparedness. MRC volunteers also are called to help during non-emergency times.

Volunteer availability is discussed during the MRC volunteer application process. MRC volunteers do not have to be available all the time. Some volunteers may only be interested in making a minimal commitment during times of crisis or for other specific community needs. These preferences are respected, given that they can be accommodated by the MRC unit's mission and work plan.

MRC Unit Coordinators match community needs for emergency medical response and public health initiatives with volunteer capabilities. They also determine prospective volunteers' availability and whether they have other obligations, such as regular work responsibilities, that might conflict with serving the MRC in times of limited advanced notice. Different people will have different amounts of time to give. Some may not be available year-round, and others may need to be utilized throughout the year to remain engaged with the MRC.

Click here: 'MRC Membership' for more information about how to join the Santa Barbara County MRC.