Ice Storm web

Medical Reserve Corps Unit Responds to Oregon Ice Storm

May 17, 2024 | Beth Hess

Although it is less than a year old, the Lane County Public Health Reserve Corps in Oregon has already deployed in response to four events. The most recent deployment for the unit’s 12 volunteers was in response to the severe ice storm that impacted the community in January.

“This was the most disabling storm I’ve been through in Oregon,” said Sarah Swofford, Public Health Reserve Corps Supervisor. “The community turned into an ice-skating rink and every aspect of response was effected.”

The storm led to 10 deaths and community residents were without electricity for up to two weeks. Telecommunications, including photos and internet, shut down and it took several days for the county’s Emergency Operations Center to be fully staffed. Water contamination in one city was also an issue.

Unit volunteers assisted with sheltering, meals, and water distribution in three areas of the community.

In the southern part of the county, volunteers assisted with a Red Cross shelter providing medical support to the medically fragile. Volunteers also assisted Lane County Search and Rescue; helped to staff Community Resource Centers in two of the hardest hit areas; assisted in distribution of firewood and over 1,500 food boxes; and provided interpretation. During the first four days of the storm, volunteers also assisted with overnight sheltering for unhoused individuals.

The ice storm also meant that the unit had to think about how to deploy without being able to access supplies. The unit collaborated with local fire districts and partnered with search and rescue to pick up/transport volunteers. As a result of this experience, the unit is now working on plans to stage medical supplies and equipment with partners across the county. Unit leaders also recognize “how important it is to recruit and train volunteers in all areas of the county.” This includes a focus on access and functional needs and language access.

Outside of deployments, the unit is focusing on community preparedness education with an equity mission to reduce health disparities.

“We see the needs of black and brown communities in statistics like those from American Heart Association,” said Swofford. “They are less likely to receive CPR outside of a healthcare setting. So far, we have trained 70 residents from the Latina community in hands-only CPR. We’re partnering with Latina-serving organizations to reach our large community of farm workers.”

The unit is also focused on capacity building and hosts monthly exercises for volunteers.

“We’re working to have patience as we develop capabilities,” said Swofford. “I’m so proud of this small but mighty corps of volunteers.”


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