Medical Reserve Corps - Why The MRC Was Established

Why The MRC Was Established

The events of September 11, 2001, underscored a need for a mechanism to better utilize volunteer medical and public health professionals. Medical providers who wanted to help alleviate the strain on local medical systems where the terror incidents occurred arrived on their own and at personal risk. Despite their intentions, their presence became problematic for emergency managers due to difficulties that arose surrounding the use of spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers.

Some of these issues included volunteer credentialing, liability, and management.

  • Credentialing—Credentialing is a process by which volunteers’ degrees, certificates, licenses, and training are verified. September 11, 2001 demonstrated that it was difficult or impossible to verify volunteers’ licenses and professional qualifications when the emergency management system was overloaded or shut down.
  • Liability—Questions that arose surrounding liability included:
    • Who would provide legal protection for volunteers, many of whom had come from other areas of the country?
    • What should occur if the volunteers were injured?
    • How would they be treated or compensated?
    • Who would manage and supervise the volunteers?
  • Management—Ultimately, most volunteers were turned away because emergency and local medical managers with limited resources, focused on emergency response, and accounting for their own personnel were unequipped to handle spontaneous volunteers.

Subsequent emergency situations, such as the anthrax mailings in October 2001 further highlighted the need for an organized volunteer response system. Federal, state, and local response assets were able to provide prophylactic doses of antibiotics to thousands of individuals who may have been exposed to anthrax spores. Leaders quickly realized, however, that they would have been overwhelmed if the number of individuals at risk was much larger. Point of distribution sites would need more workers, including many more health professionals.

Lessons-learned sessions and after-action reports from the response to September 11, 2001 and the anthrax mailings discussed the need for a more organized approach to catastrophic disasters. They also identified many of the issues that needed to be addressed, including volunteer pre-identification, registration, credentialing, training, liability, and activation.

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