News and Events

Members Participate in First Live Deployment
The recruitment drive for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC had just been completed. The ink was barely dry on graduation certificates from the unit's first disaster training classes. Then suddenly, a call was issued throughout the region for members to apply their skills in the MRC's first deployment. Even at this early stage, volunteers were ready, willing, and able to respond.

MRC members celebrate in Westford, after supporting their first emergency flu and pneumonia clinic.

The nationwide shortage of influenza vaccine during the fall of 2004 caused varying levels of distress among vulnerable populations. When the state of Massachusetts distributed an extra supply of doses in November, local public health agencies were eager to set up additional flu clinics right away. However, many needed help to respond quickly.

The seven communities in the Upper Merrimack Valley support over a quarter million residents. Four of those towns - Westford, Chelmsford, Tewksbury, and Tyngsboro - requested support from the MRC for emergency clinics.

MRC member Carol Devanney prepares paperwork for staffing the Tyngsboro flu clinic.

The result was a perfect example of the MRC's ability to offer "surge capacity." Although many towns have an existing cadre of nurses that are called upon for clinics, the urgency for offering vaccinations meant that some of those nurses wouldn't be available to support the clinics on short notice. Furthermore, MRC volunteers who provided additional capabilities (such as people movers and screeners) were able to make a big difference in the quality of response.

Nurses preparing syringes in Westford.

Judy Dunigan, Public Health Nurse for the Town of Chelmsford, saw the value of an MRC's quick response. "The lack of flu vaccine, and delays from the state in letting us know when we could hold our clinics, meant that we had to notify our usual group of nurses by a late date," said Dunigan. "We benefited by drawing from the MRC to staff our clinic."

Judy Dunigan draws vaccines
for the Chelmsford clinic.


The biggest challenge was to engage the right people from a large contingent of new members. Recruits had joined from all seven communities in the region, to serve in many crucial categories: nurses, dentists, EMTs, pharmacists, nurse-practitioners, non-medical support personnel, and other specialties. The roster was increased even further with additional applications, which arrived from other sources.

David Eberiel, Ph.D, trains Sue Johola, RN to take over his shift of phone screening and registration for the Tewksbury deployment.



Members were invited to deploy through personal phone calls. Although the MRC had trained its first members only recently, the requirements for this deployment and skills of its recruits allowed the unit to respond effectively.


Sue Rosa served at two clinics, handling paperwork in Westford and administering vaccine in Chelmsford.


This deployment proved to be an ideal way of testing the unit's early standard operating procedures. Even better, members were able to participate in a deployment where the levels of stress, severity, and urgency were minimal. Members appreciated the chance to sharpen their skills and work together as a unit, in a relatively low-key environment.

Carol Devanney (left), with Sheila Perrault and Nancy Dowling-Meehan: Three Tyngsboro BOH members who are also RNs, staffing their town's clinic. Devanney and Dowling-Meehan joined the MRC in September


Because these members were known and trained in advance, they could be deployed with assurance that each person could serve well in this kind of public health emergency. Their roles included screening and registering patients at a phone bank, handling patient intake at the clinics, directing patients to their seats for inoculations, drawing syringes, delivering medications, and answering each patient's questions.

MRC Director Sandy Collins provides final instructions to members before the clinic opens.


Many of the phone registrations demanded significant diplomacy. Although a flow chart determined who could receive shots, some callers didn't agree with the criteria set forth by the state of Massachusetts. Don Delikat recalled, "We had to handle some callers with kid gloves, because they were so anxious. But we were glad to alleviate the duties of the health department." Furthermore, he added, "We used our expertise to help people, and I made a professional contact."

Donald Delikat, an industrial hygienist who had served at Ground Zero, screened registrations in Tewksbury.

Tom Carbone, director of the Tewksbury Board of Health, appreciated the MRC's involvement. "We are grateful for all the help these people have provided, because we couldn't have done it without them," said Carbone.

Donna Harrill was relieved to dust off her skills and get to know her fellow members in a calm atmosphere. A retired RN, she gained confidence in her ability to respond to public health emergencies. "It helped that I wasn't pushed into a crazy disaster situation right away," said Harrill. "We had plenty of time to get ready, and got to know some of our fellow members." Even more important, she explained, "I hadn't given a shot in 40 years! You don't forget, but it helps to brush up and be ready for the next deployment. I feel really comfortable about it now."

Donna Harrill, who refreshed her skills at two clinics in the deployment, started by helping with set-up procedures.

Some members had never staffed a vaccination clinic, and were eager to experience this type of event hands-on. The MRC director had run many similar clinics, so members were able to learn the ropes from a highly capable and seasoned organizer.

Linda McCarthy shares a light moment with a "brave" patient at the Westford clinic.


Each of the members who participated had rather glowing feedback afterwards. This initiative also made the need for a regional MRC feel much more tangible - for the community as well as the MRC's membership.

MRC Represented at Trauma Conference

When over 200 medical professionals converged at the Marriott in Burlington, MA, on November 18 and 19 for the Ninth Annual New England Regional Trauma Conference, many learned about the national Medical Reserve Corps system for the first time. The event was sponsored by over a dozen major trauma centers throughout the region. Many of the speakers were recognized internationally for their contributions to the field.

Conference signage was displayed at each entrance.

The Upper Merrimack Valley MRC maintained a display in the exhibit area throughout the two-day conference. The unit had also submitted an abstract about the national MRC organization, which was accepted for poster presentations. The coordinator for the unit staffed the poster area during most of the breaks.

MRC Coordinator Nancy Burns answered questions during poster presentations.

This event allowed the coordinator to answer questions, as well as hand out brochures and copies of the abstract to interested attendees. Furthermore, the abstract was included as part of the conference CD, which was distributed to all registered participants.

Although the conference had been scheduled long in advance, no one could have predicted an event that boosted the MRC's special relevance: the closest local unit had been called to its first deployment the week before. Thus the poster displays were able to include very recent photos of MRC members in action, responding to a public health emergency. The handouts and informal presentations included a description of the actual response, while the abstract covered the three areas of focus for the units: mass dispensing of medications, mass casualty incidents, and community service initiatives.

The MRC maintained a display in the exhibit area of the conference.

Between the exhibit at one end of the conference hall, the poster presentations at the other end, and networking throughout the event, the MRC system was well represented to a new audience: trauma specialists who may play a role in regional mass casualty response!

Fall Recruitment Campaign a Huge Success!

A group of members who joined at the fourth and final Information Session, held at the Butler Middle School in Lowell on October 4, remained after the meeting for a photo.

When the word went out this fall about the need for a disaster medical corps in the Upper Merrimack Valley, volunteers rallied to sign up in droves. Four information sessions were held at strategic locations across the region, to make attendance as easy as possible for potential members. By the time the recruitment campaign was over, a whopping 170 recruits were enrolled.

Because a majority of these members are very busy people leading active lives, who still believe that keeping our communities safe is a priority worth making time for, the result is a testament to the spirit of these new members.

Many of the attendees had learned of the recruitment through a mass mailing, which was sent to medical professionals throughout the region, timed to arrive just after Labor Day. Others heard about recruitment through a media campaign involving cable TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. Still more found out through nearly 100 posters that were displayed in high-traffic areas, as well as by word of mouth. Some new recruits promptly encouraged their colleagues and even family members to join!

The first information session took place in Tewksbury on September 23. Following some welcoming remarks by Board of Health Director Thomas Carbone, Sandy Collins discussed the importance of local response and why she had agreed to serve as director for the new unit. A 15-minute video provided details about the national organization and plans for the local unit. Coordinator Nancy Burns recapped some main points with Powerpoint slides, and then led a lively question-and-answer session.

A banner at the entrance welcomed attendees to the information sessions.

Sandy Collins, MRC director, explains the public health benefits of the new unit to 52 Chelmsford attendees, all of whom joined that evening.

Another well-attended session took place in Billerica on September 28. The audience included a contingent of local police officers, as well as a variety of medical care providers. The largest session was held in Chelmsford on September 30.

More recruitment initiatives are planned for the future. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to join the unit is invited to send e-mail to or call 978-399-2549.

First Graduating Class Completes Basic Training

Graduating Class, October 23rd

October 23, 2004 was a day to remember for the first 20 graduates of basic disaster training for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC. This core curriculum for the unit was provided by instructors from the American Red Cross.

Gary Whitten, director of emergency services for the American Red Cross of Merrimack Valley, with a
Mass Care workbook.



The group completed a four-module series of classes designed for medical professionals, held in Westford on three consecutive Saturdays:

- Introduction to Disaster and
  Disaster Health Services Overview

- Mass Care Overview

- Disaster Health Services Simulation

The courses are similar to the program offered for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members, though the focus for the MRC is geared more for medical care providers than laypersons.

New MRC members learn basic disaster concepts on October 4, the first day of their training.

To accommodate busy schedules, members were encouraged to take classes at their own pace. Some took advantage of the option to complete the introduction as a self-paced course at home. Others opted to finish all four modules in sequence, immediately qualifying them for deployments as MRC representatives at Red Cross operations, such as staffing emergency shelters.


Husband-and-wife team Rita and Doug Hart were instructors for several of the Red Cross modules.


Because the national MRC system is still fairly new, and the Upper Merrimack Valley members are recent recruits, there is great interest in gathering feedback on ways to tailor the core curriculum for future offerings. The attendees filled out evaluation forms at the end of each session, as well as a comprehensive feedback form after the last class.


Members were awarded graduation certificates and celebrated over a special cake.


Red Cross Instructor Rita Hart, RN, was given flowers in appreciation for her ongoing support of the new MRC -- through her willingness to represent the Red Cross at the MRC recruitment sessions, as well as providing initial disaster training for the new unit. Nancy Burns, MRC Coordinator, was also surprised with a floral arrangement by MRC Director Sandy Collins, for her efforts toward the information sessions and involvement in MRC training programs.

Brenda Cunningham, Dianne Morin, Pauline Ray, and Sharlene Locker received their certificates from Sandy Collins, Director of the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC.

MRC Presents at MHOA Conference

Sandy Collins (right), an MHOA member and UMV MRC Director, with Brookline intern Melissa Cole (left) and MRC Coordinator Dawn Sibor.

The word is getting out through additional organizations that the MRC system is making inroads across the Bay State. The Massachusetts Health Officers Association invited two MRC coordinators - Dawn Sibor of Brookline and Nancy Burns of the Upper Merrimack Valley - to present at the MHOA 37th annual health conference. The event was held November 3 to 5 on Cape Cod, at the Four Points Sheraton Hyannis Resort.

MRC involvement was particularly relevant for this audience because the event was partially supported by a grant from the Department of Public Health. Topics pertaining to bioterrorism and emergency preparedness were prominent in the schedule, and Massachusetts DPH Commissioner Christine Ferguson was a featured speaker.

MDPH Commissioner Christine Ferguson gave the keynote address at the MHOA awards luncheon.

Over 450 representatives from health departments throughout Massachusetts convened for six concurrent programs that took place in five major tracks: Issues for Inspectors, Food, Environmental, Public Health/Nursing, and Septic. The session on The Medical Reserve Corps was part of the Public Health/Nursing program on November 4.

MRC Coordinators Nancy Burns (left) and Dawn Sibor, Brookline Emergency Preparedness Coordinator; (right), in the exhibit area with intern Melissa Cole.

Sixty-five attendees spent an hour in the largest ballroom at the conference to learn about the MRC system. Sandy Collins, RN, a long-term MHOA member as well as an MRC director, introduced the two speakers and displayed the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC training video.

Presentations by Burns and Sibor contrasted the approaches of their two entirely different units: urban Brookline, which is densely populated and situated near many world-class medical centers; and the suburban Upper Merrimack Valley, comprised of seven towns that vary in size and constituencies.

Joanne Martel, who serves on the Westford Board of Health, received an MHOA President's Award during the lunchtime ceremony.

The common theme was that each MRC must make decisions about its recruitment, training, and general organization based on the communities being served, as well as the characteristics of local care providers and resources. The question and answer session at the end was followed by many informal discussions.

As luck would have it, another MRC connection arose during the lunchtime festivities. Joanne Martel, an RN for the Andover public health department, also serves on the Westford Board of Health. (Westford is one of the seven communities in the Upper Merrimack Valley, and is the host agency for the local MRC.) Martel was surprised to receive a President's Award for her exemplary service in public health.


Second Basic Training Class Held in Lowell

Another group of MRC members completed the Mass Care Overview on Thursday evening, October 28.

Thirty students comprised the second graduating class for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC on November 18, 2004.

Rita Hart looks on as Gary Whitten explains a disaster scenario.

Because members were encouraged to sign up for sessions that worked best for their own schedules, many took some of their classes on Saturdays in Westford, opting to complete the rest of the four-module program on Thursday evenings at Cross Point Towers in Lowell. The courses were provided by instructors from the American Red Cross.

UMV Makes Strong Showing at Homeland Security Conference


Participants from the Westford area made a strong showing at the second annual New England Homeland Security conference. Fifteen representatives of the Upper Merrimack Valley public health coalition, plus three paramedics from the Lowell Area, attended a full day of sessions at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT on May 27.


Two of the dignitaries giving presentations were from the U.S. House of Representatives. Robert Simmons explained that effective ways to confront terrorism require “a new way of thinking,” with more inclusive cooperation among agencies.

Hundreds of attendees from private and municipal agencies convened at 8:30 a.m. for the opening sessions. The keynote speaker was John Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health). Henshaw emphasized the need to protect first responders who arrive at the scene of a disaster. “Some people will rush to the scene without regard for their own safety,” said Henshaw. While intervention by OSHA may not feel welcome at the time, he explained that each worker’s health and safety during emergency response is a priority.

John Henshaw describes the role of OSHA in emergency response.
Throughout the day, there were five concurrent 45” sessions on various aspects of Homeland Security. Many of the speakers discussed their personal experiences in responding to the events of September 11, sharing what was learned in disaster prevention and response.

Rich Serino, Chief of Boston EMS, stressed the importance of establishing communications before disaster strikes. “During a crisis, this is not the time to be exchanging business cards.” said Serino. He emphasized that relationships between the key organizations and individuals must be well established in advance, for effective response to disasters.

Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps, 55 Main Street, Westford, MA 01886