Disaster Response: Citizen by Day, Responder by Night (or afternoon, or morning…)

NYPD truck driving down the flooded FDR Drive during Hurricane Sandy, Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (C) david_shankbone

This post was originally published at Mind the Science Gap on Nov. 1, 2012.

The e-mails started on Friday. The director of my home county’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) sent out a request that all volunteers report their status for the upcoming hurricane. Would we be available in the event that Hurricane Sandy hit Northern Virginia? As the news reports came in and bloggers up and down the eastern seaboard reported what was going on, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be down there. I’ve spent most of my life on the East Coast; many friends and family members were hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass. Thankfully, everyone I know pulled through safely.

Before I got involved in public health, my mental image of disaster response was a mish-mash of government response and spontaneous volunteers. The images of Hurricane Katrina on TV showed FEMA agents and uniformed National Guardsmen in one clip and college students and church groups in another. However, there is a middle ground – organized groups of people who train to specifically respond to disasters on a volunteer basis. The category of is a broad, and it includes many EMTs, firefighters, response teams, and search and rescue teams that have day jobs and work alongside their full-time colleagues. For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on the groups that anyone can join regardless of experience. Continue reading

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