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Ref: National volunteer response exercise to be held in Michigan

News Release

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Michigan Chosen to Participate in National Exercise for Mobilizing Emergency Volunteers



Mar 16, 2007 News Release

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), Office of Public Health Preparedness (OPHP) recently participated in a first-of-its-kind exercise to test the state's ability to mobilize volunteers in the event of a federal public health emergency. Michigan was one of only four states elected to participate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) invited the OPHP to participate in the two-day exercise in which HHS and multiple state health departments tested volunteer mobilization and deployment protocols within and between state and federal public health entities. This exercise marked the first time that HHS has conducted a volunteer mobilization exercise that focuses on the need for hundreds of volunteers from all over the country to help in a large-scale federal disaster such as that which occurred during Hurricane Katrina.

An early proponent of electronic volunteer registration, Michigan began work toward developing an electronic volunteer registry system in 2003. Today the MI Volunteer Registry houses a network of close to 2,000 volunteers who stand ready to assist in large-scale emergencies.

The MI Volunteer Registry improves the state's emergency response capabilities by creating a reserve of qualified, screened volunteers ready to assist when disasters strike. The system is built on Virginia-based Global Secure's Volunteer Mobilizer platform, a secure, web-based application for registering, credentialing, mobilizing and communicating with large, diverse volunteer groups.

"When an emergency happens, timing of a response is critical," said Virginia Ball, MI volunteer registry project coordinator. "Through Global Secure's platform, we were able to pinpoint the type of volunteers needed and simultaneously notify them via email and text-to-voice telephone calls. That is a huge advantage over relying on spreadsheets and calling out volunteers individually, as had been relied upon in the past."

The Global Secure system allows users to select volunteers by zip code, skills, their deployment preferences. This can quickly supplement existing emergency response at the local level.

Currently, citizen volunteers may register in one or more of nine MI Volunteer Registry groups. Volunteers indicate contact information, certifications, skills, specialties, availability, and more.

"Many states are finding that managing the many large, diverse groups of volunteers needed in a major disaster -- from doctors and nurses to electricians, security and food service volunteers -- can be very complex," said Eric Shaffer, president of Global Secure's Systems Group which provides state volunteer management systems. "The state of Michigan has done a great job of developing the infrastructure and protocols to get critical volunteers where they are needed most in an emergency."

The exercise tested response times, communication processes, chain of command, how the system performed and how the staff managed it.

"Michigan was able to take a lot back after the exercise component and will be working to apply the lessons learned in preparation for the next exercise or unplanned event. Overall it was beneficial and a success for Michigan," said Dr. Jacqueline Scott, MDCH Office of Public Health Preparedness director.

"Through our MI Volunteer Registry, Michigan now has the ability to immediately get the right volunteers to the places where their specific skills are needed most," said Ball. "Bottom line, that means helping people in need and saving lives."

Having a large and diverse pool of potential volunteers is critical to the MI Volunteer Registry's success, and state public health officials are actively seeking individuals to add to the Registry. Volunteers with all skill levels and experiences are needed, although the initial focus has been on recruiting physicians, nurses, pharmacists, behavioral health, emergency medical services personnel and ancillary support staff. Other targeted professions and skill sets include security, clergy, interpreters, food service, clerks, electricians and more. To register as a volunteer in the MI Volunteer Registry, visit www.MIVolunteerRegistry.org.

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