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 could 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.
The MRC was founded after President Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, in which he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country.
The MRC is a partner program of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Peace Corps, are part of the President's USA Freedom Corps, which promotes volunteerism and service nationwide.
The MRC also has a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). This agreement enables NACCHO to assist the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response(ASPR) Medical Reserve Corps Program Office in enhancing MRC units' ability to meet local, state, and national needs through collaboration, coordination, and capacity-building activities. These activities include:
Coordinating the distribution of grant funding
Developing a national marketing strategy
Publishing a quarterly national newsletter
Assisting in the planning of regional and national meetings
Developing materials, resources, and tools to strengthen the knowledge and skills of MRC members
In addition, NACCHO's relationship with almost 3,000 local health departments further serves as an avenue to promote the MRC program at the local level.