Frequently Asked Questions

The MRC program was created 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 comprised of organized medical and public health professionals who serve as volunteers to respond to natural disasters and emergencies. These volunteers assist communities nationwide during emergencies and for ongoing efforts in public health.

The need for trained supplemental medical and public health personnel to assist with emergency operations was highlighted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many medical and public health professionals sought to support emergency relief efforts, but there was no organized approach to channel their efforts. The MRC program provides the structure necessary to deploy medical and public health personnel in response to an emergency, as it identifies specific, trained, credentialed personnel available and ready to respond to emergencies.

Each community is different, and these differences may require alternative approaches to natural disasters and emergencies. The terms “medical” and “reserve” indicate that trained personnel are available to respond to emergencies requiring support to the community’s health and medical resources. “Corps” refers to an organized body of individuals with a similar function, in keeping with the example of Citizen Corps. Despite differences among communities, all communities can benefit from the MRC and can understand the MRC similarly. The “medical” in Medical Reserve Corps does not limit MRC units to medical professionals. Individuals without medical training can fill essential supporting roles.

Sponsored by the Office of the Surgeon General, the MRC coordinates its efforts with several groups and has multiple affiliates. The MRC is a specialized component of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security.

When possible, MRC units collaborate with their local Citizen Corps Council to better protect, prepare, and serve their communities. Other components of Citizen Corps include the programs Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Service, and Community Emergency Response Team.

At the national level, the OCVMRC (Office of Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps) functions as a clearinghouse for community information and “best practices.” The OCVMRC offers technical assistance and educational resources, as well as partners with the National Program Office of Citizen Corps and the USA Freedom Corps to build relationships and gain resources for the MRC program as a whole.

The MRC is a specialized component of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Communities benefit from having MRC volunteers ready to respond to emergencies. People volunteer for many reasons, but some volunteer for the MRC because:

  • It’s a way to offer their skills that might not have been used before because they were not adequately prepared to be part of the response effort.
  • It’s a significant benefit to communities because skilled volunteers offer services during the year to augment existing public health efforts or provide emergency backup that would not otherwise be available.
  • It’s a chance to belong to a group with a strong sense of mission and purpose.
  • It’s a chance to qualify for special incentives (e.g., free training).

Volunteers are at the very heart of the MRC. The existence of this nationwide, community-based movement is due to the willingness of volunteer medical and public health professionals to serve their communities in times of need. Without that generous offer of service, there would be no MRC.

The MRC program will soon establish core competencies, possibly using elements of the American Red Cross basic training. MRC leaders and volunteers will be surveyed about their experiences and their lessons learned and asked to assist with the development of core competencies (other items to be developed include standard operating procedures for local, state, and national activations; credentialing guidelines; and standardized identification badges).

Emergency preparedness and response is a highly coordinated effort that allows communities to maximize their capabilities during times of extraordinary disorganization and stress. Volunteers may already know how to perform some of the necessary medical and health functions. In most cases, training as an MRC volunteer focuses primarily on learning local emergency and health procedures, trauma response techniques, use of specialized equipment, and other methods to enhance volunteer effectiveness.

Perhaps the most important part of training is learning how to work as a team member. An organized, well-trained MRC unit is familiar with its community’s response plan, knows what materials are available, knows its response partners, and knows where its skills can be put to best use in a coordinated manner.

All MRC volunteers need to undergo some form of orientation to the MRC, which includes an overview of the system in which the MRC’s activities occur, whether in relation to emergency response or public health, or both.

Support/administrative volunteers receive guidance on how to perform their particular functions, which vary depending on the needs of particular communities. They may need to participate in practice drills if their duties interface with those of the front-line/direct-service volunteers. Overall, the training includes support skills training, communications, public speaking, and Incident Command System, or other local command systems.

Training requirements for front-line/direct-service volunteers is typically extensive and specialized. Generally, these volunteers receive training in primary emergency response and public health procedures, including basic life support and CPR; Community Emergency Response Team training; identifying the signs, symptoms, and treatment of hazardous materials (including nuclear, biological, and chemical agents); and basic first aid skills to deal with emergencies such as shock, allergic reactions, bleeding, broken bones, burns, chemical splashes, choking, eye injuries, skin wounds, dislocations, head trauma, heat exhaustion, stroke, and poisoning.

Liability protection standards require volunteer-based organizations to train their volunteers in accordance with all policies and procedures, particularly those intended to reduce the incidence of harm. Different localities are subject to different legal liability laws and standards. All volunteer organizations want to protect their volunteers; liability protection for volunteers is an advocacy issue and a reasonable concern for many MRC units.

Liability also is a highly complex area of the law, compounded by innumerable differences at the local level. Understanding and interpreting liability is based on individual cases and varied interpretations of the statutes in specific states. Because the rules and laws vary, it is not possible for the MRC Program Office to provide information applicable to all 50 states and to all jurisdictions within them. Even within a specific jurisdiction and given a specific set of facts, no one can predict with certainty whether a liability suit will succeed.

State offices may provide information about its liability rules. Some states offer greater protection to medical volunteers than others. Additionally, some response partners may be able to extend the liability and workers compensation privileges that normally apply to regular workers.

The MRC program seeks volunteers to assist with emergency preparedness and response efforts. Volunteers in the MRC program include:

  • Practicing, retired, or otherwise employed medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, nurses’ assistants, and others.
  • Public health professionals.
  • Community members without medical training can assist with administrative and other essential support functions.

United States citizenship is not required to be part of the MRC. Non-citizen, legal U.S. residents also are welcome to volunteer and contribute their time, knowledge, and skills to protecting and improving their communities.

No. The MRC program seeks medical and public health professionals to assist with emergency preparedness and response efforts. However, other volunteers who have no medical or healthcare backgrounds also are needed to properly conduct emergency preparedness and response efforts. Community members without medical training can assist with administrative and other essential support functions. These volunteers give their time on an ongoing basis in coordination with other experts willing to donate their time and knowledge for special aspects of the effort.

Major emergencies can overwhelm the capabilities of first responders, particularly during the first 12 to 72 hours. Medical and other health volunteers can provide an important “surge” capacity during this critical period. They also can augment medical staff shortages at local medical and emergency facilities. In short, communities often need medically trained individuals to fill in the gaps in their emergency response plans and to improve their response capabilities overall.

Possible types of “front-line” medical and public health volunteers include:

  • Physicians (including surgeons, medical specialists, osteopaths)
  • Physician Assistants
  • Nurses (nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants)
  • Pharmacists
  • Dentists
  • Dental Assistants
  • Optometrists
  • Veterinarians
  • Emergency medical technicians
  • Public health workers
  • Epidemiologists
  • Infectious disease specialists
  • Toxicologists
  • Mental health practitioners (psychologists, substance abuse counselors, social workers)
  • Health educators/communicators
  • Other medical and public health professionals

Individuals with a non-medical or healthcare background typically serve their community by assisting with administrative and other essential support functions. Possible types of administrative and other support volunteers include:

  • Administrators and business managers
  • Administrative assistants and office support staff
  • Drivers
  • Chaplains
  • Training directors
  • Trainers
  • Volunteer coordinators
  • Fundraising professionals
  • Supply and logistics managers
  • Interpreters/translators
  • Amateur radio operators
  • Other support personnel

Although the MRC volunteers are ready to respond to disasters or emergencies, part of the MRC program’s mission is to foster disaster preparedness. MRC volunteers also are called to help during non-emergency times.

During non-emergent times, MRC volunteers strengthen the overall health of Americans by participating in general public health initiatives such as flu vaccination clinics and diabetes detection programs. The U.S. Surgeon General has outlined his priorities for the health of individuals and the nation as a whole. The overarching goal is to improve health literacy, and in support of this, he encourages MRC volunteers to increase disease prevention, eliminating health disparities, in addition to public health preparedness.

Volunteer availability is discussed during the MRC volunteer application process. MRC volunteers do not have to be available all the time. Some volunteers may only be interested in making a minimal commitment during times of crisis or for other specific community needs. These preferences are respected, given that they can be accommodated by the MRC unit’s mission and work plan.

MRC Unit Coordinators match community needs for emergency medical response and public health initiatives with volunteer capabilities. They also determine prospective volunteers’ availability and whether they have other obligations, such as regular work responsibilities, that might conflict with serving the MRC in times of limited advanced notice. Different people will have different amounts of time to give. Some may not be available year-round, and others may need to be utilized throughout the year to remain engaged with the MRC.

The first step in becoming an MRC volunteer is to locate the MRC unit closest to the volunteer. Access the list of registered MRC units to find contact information.