“If there was an anthrax attack, we have plans in place to set up dispensing sites, which are like temporary clinics, where we would give out medicines. Because we would have to do it within 48 hours of an attack in order for exposed people to stay well.”
Monique Davis, health educator and risk communicator for the Hudson Regional Health Commission (HRHC), was speaking about one of the many responsibilities of the countywide agency. The occasion was an Emergency Preparedness seminar at Lawler Towers in North Bergen on Sept. 22.
Dozens of seniors living in the complex are now better prepared to deal with an emergency thanks to the visit by Davis and other officials from the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management and CarePoint Health.
“We take an all-hazards approach,” said Davis, “so we’re looking at weather, we’re looking at CBRN events: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear. Mass casualty, dirty bombs, all of that.”
The HRHC is concerned with the public health side of the equation, she explained, while the OEM focuses on other aspects like sheltering.
“Shelters are a place of last resort,” she continued, offering advice valuable not only to seniors but to all residents. “First responders coming to help you is a last resort. You should have a built-in support system, whether it’s a friend, neighbor, family member.”
“A situation could arise out of nowhere. We’re in unprecedented times. And this is information that could save their lives.” –Kathy Paletta
For a full list of items to have handy in case of emergency, the HRHC offers a downloadable booklet called “Ready Together New Jersey,” available on their website at hudsonregional.org.
Register Ready database available for those with special needs
Another item stressed by the presenters was the value of signing up on the statewide database “Register Ready” for individuals with special needs. The database allows first responders to identify residents who may need extra assistance during an emergency.
“It could be for people who are mobility-challenged or cognitively-challenged, like a child with autism,” said Davis. “Or for the senior population, people who have difficulty moving around.”
Signing up for the database is not a guarantee that first responders will instantly come knocking at your door in the event of an emergency, however.
“It’s not going to be in the immediate hours after an emergency because there are a thousand things going on,” said Hudson County OEM Coordinator James Woods. “But when the resources permit – and it happened before, during Sandy – during the next day or so, first responders will start going to check on them. There are people that need oxygen. If there’s no power their oxygen concentrators won’t work. We make sure they have food from Meals on Wheels, whatever they need.”
The four-year-old program is free and the information is confidential. For more information or to sign up, visit registerready.nj.gov or call 211 or (201) 369-5280 ext. 4241.
Volunteers participate in emergency exercises
So who exactly are the first responders in the event of an emergency? In part, they consist of a volunteer group called the Medical Reserve Corps.
“It’s a little bit of a misnomer because we’re not just looking for medical people,” said Davis. “We need people with all kinds of talents. For instance, in a shelter, we need lay people to assist with the registration process as people are coming in, and to help with handing out the food. So while it’s called Medical Reserve Corps, we take people with licenses and without. And we train them and we exercise them and we deploy them.”
Volunteers attend four meetings annually and receive training both online and in person for things like CPR and first aid. “And then we encourage them to participate in any exercise opportunities,” said Davis. “Sometimes PATH will call us to say they’re doing a train derailment exercise and they need help. Or Port Authority will call and say they’re doing a disaster drill over at the airport. Oftentimes our people act as the victims. Because when you exercise these things you need victims.”
Members of the Medical Reserve Corps pitched in when the Emergency Department at Meadowlands Hospital was in danger of flooding, and helped move emergency equipment to an alternative care site and shelter.
In the event of a predictable emergency, like an approaching hurricane, volunteers get a heads-up via a robocall and email that they may be needed. “And then they’ll get the call that we are being deployed,” said Davis. “Before we open the doors we do something called just-in-time training, which is basically a briefing. And we say, ‘This is why we’re here, this is what you’re doing, this is what your role is.’”
Upcoming is a practice scenario at one of the county’s shelters, the locations of which are not publicized for security purposes. Volunteers will be called to an emergency drill and deployed like a real event.
“Post-Sandy there were a lot of lessons learned,” said Woods. “One of the things is sheltering. All sheltering is done by local OEMs [in each municipality]. The county administration put forth the challenge to us, OEM and Hudson Regional Health, to take some of the burden off of local shelters and staff a medical needs shelter. So we’re going to set up the shelters in a mock scenario with some of the equipment and the volunteers that we recruited.”
The goal is for the volunteers to receive hands-on experience to better prepare for a genuine emergency situation. “We don’t want the first time that they deploy to be the real thing, so it’s a controlled environment,” said Woods. “We’ll learn lessons there, too.”
The Emergency Preparedness seminar at Lawler Towers was coordinated by Kathy Paletta, senior social worker for the Housing Authority of the Township of North Bergen. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time because a situation could arise out of nowhere,” she said. “We’re in unprecedented times. And this is information that could save their lives.”
For more information contact Monique Davis at (201) 223-1133 or James Woods at (201) 369-5200.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.