Health district training volunteers to collect disaster-related data

Ledge Light Health District is forming the state's first Disaster Epidemiology Strike Team, an army of volunteers who would be deployed after major disasters to quickly collect data to better assess and respond to community needs.

"We'll know exactly what the needs are, so we can target specific resources," Russell Melmed, epidemiologist with Ledge Light, said Monday. The agency provides public health services for East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, New London and Waterford, and after disasters, sends its Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to provide medical attention and other services in shelters Lyme, Old Lyme, Stonington and North Stonington along with its five core towns.

Melmed said he is hoping at least 60 volunteers from throughout Eastern Connecticut will sign up to be part of the Epi-Strike Team, and agree to attend training Sept. 7 and 8 at the Groton Senior Center, including some current volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps for Ledge Light and with the Uncas Health District, which serves the Norwich region.

Both days, the training will begin at 8 a.m., with morning presentations from Centers for Disease Control commanders Margaret Riggs and Joseph Roth about the Community Assessment for Public Health Response (CASPER) program. At lunchtime, Federal Emergency Management Agency-issued MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) will be served "to simulate a post-disaster environment," Melmed said. After lunch the volunteers will undertake a field training exercise, going door to door in pairs in sample neighborhoods to collect data. The data collection would continue on the Sept. 8.

During the training exercise, Melmed said, the volunteers would ask a series of households questions, including whether they are prepared for emergencies with emergency plans, nonperishable foods, batteries and other supplies, and whether they know the whereabouts of their potassium iodide pills that would be ingested in case of an accident involving a radiation release at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford. The results will be used to inform local emergency planning directors and others about the community's level of preparedness, Melmed said.

In the case of a real disaster such as a hurricane or major blizzard that knocks out power to large areas, he said, the volunteers would go door to door in the immediate aftermath in representative neighborhoods to determine the key needs. The results would be quickly shared with emergency responders.

"Once the volunteers are trained in disaster epidemiology," Melmed said, "they can be called on right away."

Joe Sastre, emergency planning director for Groton, said the Epi-Strike Team would provide valuable post-disaster information, such as how much bottled water and MREs are needed. The data from the training exercise will also be valuable, he added.

"We'll get an idea of how well we're educating the community" about disaster preparedness, he said.

Melmed said the a second part of the training for the Epi-Strike Team would prepare them to assist in the event of a large-scale disease outbreak. The date for the second training has not been set.

j.benson@theday.com

UBOX:

To volunteer:

• For information about participating in the Epi-Strike Team, contact Melmed at (860) 448-4882 extension 311 or at: rmelmed@llhd.org.

• For information about the Medical Reserve Corps, contact Kris Magnussen at: (860) 448-4882 extension 331 or at: kmagnussen@llhd.org.

• Registration forms can be found at: http://llhd.org/mrc.

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