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Preparing for the future and the unexpected: You can help

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Be prepared is more than a Boy Scout motto, it is what Ray Morris, St. Croix Medical Reserve Corps coordinator wants us to be. Morris is also St. Croix County's Emergency Preparedness program specialist.

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The Medical Reserve Corps program is sponsored by the Office of the Attorney General in cooperation with the White House's USA Freedom Corps and the Department of Homeland Security's Citizen Corps. "The program has been around since shortly after the anthrax attack," said Morris. It was founded in 2002 and is celebrating its 10 anniversary this year.

St. Croix County is one of eight locations in the state of Wisconsin authorized to establish a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). The next closest one is in Eau Claire. Wisconsin's MRC programs started in July of this year.

St. Croix County's Emergency Management and Public Health Departments together formed a new chapter of Medical Reserve Corps. A MRC will help in times of disaster, emergencies and any type of situation requiring a large number of volunteers who have been trained in the medical field. There are 878 local MRC units and more than 200,000 volunteers. Units are present in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"We are proud to have been selected," said Morris. "It was an arduous process to qualify."

The program is looking for volunteers who are willing to prepare in advance for emergencies. You do not have to be a medical professional. However doctors, dentists, registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and veterinarians are needed.

"We also need people like ham radio operators, chaplains, legal advisors and anyone who is interested helping in a crisis," said Morris. "It is a good way patriotic citizens can give back to their community. We are hoping to start modestly with 30 volunteers and grow the program."

In an emergency medical retirees would have their prior certification activated. State and federal laws are on the books to absolve MRC volunteers of liability except in cases of gross negligence.

"The MRC basically will help assist St. Croix County Public Health deliver important medication to the 85,000 people who are residents of the county," said Morris. "They will be crucial if we ever get into a situation where we need this."

The 1917 flu pandemic is the only time in the 20th century the population of the United States declined. It is a fact that Morris and others in the field keep in the back of their minds. While much has changed since the early years of that century, threats remain.

According to Morris, the federal government at the Center of Disease Control maintains a Strategic National Stockpile of drugs which are prepackaged and ready to ship.

The Strategic National Stockpile has been used successfully in emergencies such the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Other resources stored at the SNS address potential pandemics and bio-terrorism threats.

"In terms of an emergency the MRC volunteers and their families would be among the first that would be treated," said Morris. "We have to make sure those who are working are protected from a practical sense as well as a medical sense."

The MRC units may also be used for supporting hospital surge capacity, mass casualty response, shelter operations and support, decontamination and other specific needs of the communities.

A background investigation will be done on all volunteers to make sure no one has a criminal record.

Once a large enough group has volunteered, an orientation session will be scheduled. All will receive CPR training and other critical emergency training, which will be planned for evening sessions.

"This is a great opportunity for people to improve their skills and be able to assist the county which can't respond adequately to meet the potential need without their help," said Morris.

"I hope to eventually have 150 volunteers," said Morris. "That would help us help everyone. We are here to help people. We provide training and volunteers have the opportunity to attend programs, activities and exercises where they can develop their skills."

If you are interesting in applying go to www.co.saint-croix.wi.us and follow the links to the application. For more information, go to http://medicalreservecorp.gov and https://weavrwi.org.

To prepare your family for emergencies, go to www.readywisconsin.wi.gov or www.ready.gov. Both sites have extensive downloadable brochures or stop at the St. Croix Government Center and pick up the literature on display and available during the month of September which is National Preparedness Month.

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