The worst is coming

DeWayne Bartels

A disaster is on the way for Peoria County. It is not a question of if, but when, according to Jason Marks, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Peoria City/County Health Department.

That is why, the county recently formed a Medical Reserve Corps.

Thirty-three Peoria County residents began a training regimen in mid-January.

Marks is recruiting citizens  with both medical and non-medical backgrounds for the volunteer corps, which will help in a medical emergency such as a flu pandemic, a terrorist attach or a natural disaster, such as a tornado.

“Unfortunately, most people rely on the government and local medical facilities to offer aid when disaster strikes. Of course, we do all we can, but some catastrophes are far too big to be handled by government and area facilities alone,” Marks said.

“Consider the flooding in Cedar Rapids, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or even a terrorist act like 9/11 in New York … these disasters are too overwhelming. We need people within communities who are trained to help. That’s why the Medical Reserve Corps has been created.”

Marks said a flu pandemic is one concern. He said if a flu pandemic or, perhaps, an Anthrax attack hit the county, the health department would be responsible for inoculating 183,000 residents.

“The health department has about 135 employees. We couldn’t possibly handle that. A Citizens Reserve Corps would really help fill the need,” Marks said.

He said the Centers For Disease Control estimate in a flu pandemic, that about 30 percent of residents would be infected.

But, he said, the impact would be much higher because others would be sidelined taking care of the ill.

That, he said, would make it a service delivery disaster, especially since it would take time to develop the needed vaccines.

And, even after the proper vaccine was developed, it would take time to manufacture it and distribute it.

“During a flu pandemic we would be on our own for some time,” Marks said. “That’s why we want to be prepared ahead of time.”

The corps is recruiting those with both medical and non-medical backgrounds because, Marks said, in an emergency, there is a need for all kinds of skill sets.

Marks said that no government entity can ever be totally prepared. He said the response to Hurricane Katrina proved that. But, he added, emergency response professionals are learning all the time. He said the four-minute response in New York City to a recent plane crash into the Hudson  River illustrated that.

Marks said another goal of the program is creating something called “community resilience.” That is simply instilling confidence among the public that there are plans in place. He said that, in part, is achieved by getting the public involved.

“They will be prepared,” Marks said, “for the basics.”

Medical Reserve Corps

The Peoria County Medical Reserve Corps is currently recruiting volunteers over the age of 18.

Volunteers are required to complete several emergency management courses,

as well as disaster assistance training.

All training is free to volunteers.

Those interested in the first training series are encouraged to call Jason Marks at 679-6020 as soon as possible.