Volunteer Efforts Continue Local Preparedness Education

Submitted By

Margaret Wiley
Orleans County Health Department, New York
November 1, 2013

Since 2004, the Orleans County Health Department (NY) has only had one emergency preparedness professional on staff due to programmatic and budget constraints. Thanks to the assistance of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers from the Orleans County VALOR MRC, emergency preparedness and community resiliency education efforts through the health department continue.

Orleans County VALOR MRC provides the only disaster risk reduction and community resiliency education in the county since there is no additional paid support. Because the state of New York bases preparedness funding off of population size and Orleans County is a county of only 42,000 people, Orleans County receives minimum funding which does not provide for outreach activities.

“Orleans County VALOR MRC is the sole driving force in health department efforts to work towards disaster risk reduction and community resiliency,” said Margaret Wiley, Orleans County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator and Orleans County VALOR MRC unit leader. “There are no other resources to drive this effort.” However, as leaders in preparedness education throughout the community, MRC volunteers create events for the community based on local needs. Over the past few years, they have set up an informational “Pet Care, Share, Prepare” section in the annual Rabies Clinics in conjunction with Animal Control volunteers. They hosted a community “Healthy Living” presentation to address local health issues such as obesity and lack of exercise. Soon, MRC volunteers will host a screening of the 2011 film “Contagion” and will engage viewers in a dialogue about pandemic preparedness afterwards.

In addition to these events, Orleans County VALOR MRC volunteers have taken steps to help reduce the risk of disaster locally. Since Orleans County shares a northern border with Lake Ontario, volunteers hosted a “Lakeshore Flooding” informational meeting for lakeshore residents and stakeholders, weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern part of the state. They provided subject matter experts to speak at this meeting, including the Emergency Manager of the local Highway Department, the Director of the local Soil and Water Conservation office, and a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many of those in attendance had not lived on the lake long enough to have experienced flooding. Because of this training, they are now more informed about what they can do to protect their families and property in a flooding disaster.

While the MRC volunteers have stepped in to support community preparedness education now, Margaret worries about the long term effects of preparedness cuts. “The current investment amounts in disaster risk reduction and community resiliency efforts may determine the human and financial costs of future disasters to our communities and our society,” she said. “We would be wise to invest now for those eventualities for the best future return on investment, in human as well as financial costs.”

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