When the flood waters rose last December, Kelley Jones received a phone call. As a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer in Thurston County, she was asked to assist the relief effort in rural communities west of Centralia. Kelley and another volunteer went door to door asking residents if they needed help. The flood survivors she met were trying to meet their most basic needs while they grappled with the loss of livestock, homes and treasured possessions.
Kelley gave out warm meals, or let families know that the fire station had bottled water. She cleared the mud and muck from homes. Sometimes she just listened to their stories. Kelley, a medical social worker, also watched for anyone that needed to be referred for more care. Houses were spread far apart, so there were days when she only visited six homes. But Kelley says that, “If we helped one person, that person was then able to help five or 10 more people.”
King County is now recruiting volunteers like Kelley to lend a hand during emergencies. We’re looking for nurses, doctors, pharmacists, EMTs and other health-care professionals to support our emergency health-care centers. We’re also seeking mental-health counselors and volunteers without medical training. Volunteers hand out blankets or answer calls to our hotline. Chaplains and counselors sit with survivors to help them with the overwhelming emotions and stresses of the event. Interpreters provide essential information to those who don’t speak English as a first language.
In an emergency, our volunteers save lives. They also help their communities recover more quickly. By registering with the Public Health Reserve Corps, volunteers receive emergency-response training and are called to action as part of a coordinated community effort. Last December, the Reserve Corps in Kelley’s area were alerted minutes after the floods were predicted.
In an emergency, many of us find it difficult to sit in front of the television, and feel helpless because we’re not sure how to lend a hand. Your community needs your skills and talents during a crisis. Hurricanes Ike and the tempests that have hit the Gulf Coast recently are almost unheard of in King County. But we are at risk for floods, wind storms, earthquakes and disease outbreaks. Volunteering with the Public Health Reserve Corps means that you’ll be helping the people who need it the most. We are doing everything we can to prepare for the worst. I hope you’ll join us.
Mandi George runs the Public Health Reserve Corps for Public Health — Seattle and King County. You can find out more at www.kingcounty.gov/health.