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Putnam’s Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Hone Preparedness Skills

Putnam County Medical




Reserve Corps volunteers gathered at Centennial Golf Course in Carmel recently to hear from experts in the field of emergency preparedness and management. The all-day training conference kicked off with a welcome by County Executive Kevin Byrne as he greeted nearly 50 attendees, including representatives from the Putnam County Legislature, Child Advocacy Center, Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES, Bureau of Emergency Services and the New York State Department of Health.

Volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, known as simply “the MRC,” play a crucial role in bolstering the county’s public health response and preserving the safety of residents.

Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, and Connie Bueti, emergency preparedness coordinator at the Putnam County Department of Health, joined in welcoming the crowd.

“We are so fortunate in Putnam County to have strong community engagement with a dedication to volunteerism,” said Nesheiwat. “It’s people like you who help to keep us safe and healthy. Your service is commendable.”

With expertise honed over two decades of emergency management, Shannon Fisher, emergency manager at the Orange County Department of Emergency Services, was the first presenter of the day. She told of the lessons learned during her county’s response last fall to the catastrophic Farmingdale bus crash on Interstate-84. The incident involved dozens of injured school musicians, the death of two educators, and five other buses following in a caravan filled with young students who bore witness to the event.

“I am committed to reading every ‘after-action report’ I can get my hands on,” she said. “I learn everything I can about others’ successes and challenges and take what I can that might work for my county. Clearly one of the biggest changes over the years is the effect social media plays in response scenarios… The families of children on the Farmingdale buses knew about the crash before we did, and they knew the exact location, which underscores the important nature of family communications in an emergency.”

Kathy Percacciolo, supervising public health nurse at the health department, updated the crowd on the recent re-emergence of measles, which stands as a potential and serious threat to public health.

“Currently there are 113 cases of measles in the U.S., in 18 separate jurisdictions, including three in New York City and one in Nassau County,” she said. “Everyone thinks it’s eradicated, but it is not. The highly contagious nature of this illness makes the situation very worrisome. If just a single infected person enters a room, the virus remains airborne and infectious for up to two hours – even after that individual has left the space.”

Meeting the target audience is the foundation of any effective message, and Savannah Usher, a public health graduate fellow at the health department, and John Ohnmacht, an EMT and retired radiographer with more than 50 years of healthcare experience, provided a look at understanding one’s audience.

“Consider both the demographics and psychographics, and the behaviors and needs of your audience,” said Usher. “This is paramount, alongside selecting the most suitable communication channels.” 

The afternoon session also included a training for volunteers as “preparedness ambassadors” that involved an interactive exercise in message development, and a game of “Emergency Preparedness Jeopardy.”

Presenter Jack Porter rounded out the day’s events. After a 32-year military career, he now works in the NYS Department of Health’s office of health emergency preparedness as both the NYS volunteer program coordinator and MRC state coordinator. He noted that among the nearly 300,000 MRC volunteers nationwide, more than 130,000 of them assist in non-medical support positions.

After the event, nearly everyone returned the conference satisfaction surveys with high marks for the engaging speakers and quality of information, and nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated they were likely to share the information they learned and potentially change their behaviors based on it.

Volunteer Janet Eisig, who joined the MRC in 2018, sent a thank-you email to the health department, stating, “It was a great day of learning – thanks for organizing the day!”

For more information or to join Putnam’s Medical Reserve Corps, visit www.putnamcountyny.com/mrc.

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