Shelter Education Grant
 

In addition to a non-competitive grant for $3500 that our unit received in 2013, we were also awarded a 'competitive' grant through a highly selective process. This new $7000 funding from NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials) allows us to train deployment teams for sheltering, and to educate area residents on preparedness. Providing care at emergency shelters is one of the most important functions that an MRC unit can offer at the local level.

Both the Director and Coordinator of the UMV MRC were among the unit leaders to attend a pilot 'Train the Trainer' course on sheltering for MRC volunteers across the state. Collins was co-chair of
the steering committee that developed this training, which was offered through MDPH -- the MA Department of Public Health.
UMV MRC staff delivered our unit's first 'Introduction to Sheltering for MRC Volunteers' class in October 2013. The material was customized for our region, drawing on examples from actual shelters. This course is the foundation for all members who wish to serve at a shelter.

The need for emergency shelters has occurred frequently in recent years. Our volunteers have already responded many times for shelter service -- both within our region and across the Commonwealth. These MRC members can become even more effective if they report to shelters with others who share specialized training. Thus we proposed the formation of 'strike teams' to offer three types of skills in disaster response:

Administrative
Set-up, registration, shelter operations, record-keeping, tear-down, and other non-medical services.
Medical
General patient care. While area residents who are seriously ill would be at a hospital or urgent care facility, those whose condition is vulnerable yet stable could be admitted to a public shelter. Residents who are not accompanied by an aide or family member may require someone else to monitor their health.
Behavioral
Mental health support. Every disaster means some level of upheaval and stress, which can exacerbate existing behavioral health conditions. Training in Psychological First Aid and counseling skills can be crucial in shelters.


Through the grant, our unit has agreed to train 100 interested UMV MRC members to serve on these teams. MRC staff incorporated feedback from our kickoff course last fall, and provided two more sessions, on
February 26 and March 8.
Although the three course offerings are over, we may conduct another session if there is sufficient interest.

This course provided the foundation for training all levels of MRC volunteers on effective service in emergency shelters, within our region and across MA. For medical volunteers, completion also resulted in four free hours of continuing education.

Disasters in MA happen unexpectedly, at any time of year. Winter storms often cause power outages,
leaving vulnerable residents at risk of hypothermia. Tornadoes once ripped through the state in June.

In addition to completing the 'Intro to Sheltering' class, team members will receive additional training that is specific to their role. Some of this material can be learned through handouts, online courses, and in a self-paced format. Details will be provided to strike team participants.

Vulnerable patients may need nothing more than an occasional conversation to see how they're doing. They may also need assistance with basic care.
MRC volunteers who are skilled in behavioral health, crisis intervention, or medical care may be assigned a quiet space in which to counsel patients.

Non-medical volunteers are indispensible for providing shelter service! Their functions can any number of helpful activities that these members are willing to provide.

Administrative teams can interact with other municipal agencies -- such as police, fire, and school personnel -- as shown above. They can assist with meals, ensure that cots and blankets are available for relaxing, register and sign out shelter staff and clients, and generally offer a welcoming presence for residents who were evacuated from their homes in a disaster.

The final components are a drill on May 10 in which to put these skills together, and public education on how to prepare in case they may need to evacuate to an emergency shelter in a disaster. The drill is scheduled for Blanchard Middle School in Westford, which has served often as the site of the town's emergency shelters in previous disasters.

The cafeteria at Blanchard School offered warm meals and snacks, a TV with which to monitor storm coverage, a 'warming center' by day in which to charge electronic devices, and an 'overnight shelter' on which healthy family members could sleep on cots. Registration took place at the entrance to the cafeteria. All levels of members were needed for set-up, paperwork, and oversight of general shelter operations.
The gymnasium provided extra services for those with medical special needs, such as limited mobility. Physicians, nurses, and EMTs helped to provide non-urgent care. Set off from the general area by a long corridor, this section was quieter and the lights were dimmed, which was more calming for vulnerable residents.
All shelters must make accommodations for pets in order to qualify for FEMA disaster reimbursement. Our unit tested this capability by setting up a separate pet area in the 'shop class' section at Blanchard, which has a separate entrance. Support of this shelter capability was of great interest to members who love animals!

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Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps, 23 Depot Street, Westford, MA 01886