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Building cross-border volunteer deployment

Building cross-border volunteer deployment

By Eric Gebbie
The state of Oregon is building new partnerships to deploy across state lines in the event of a major disaster.  The state of California’s disaster health care volunteer program is our newest partner.
In March, Oregon’s SERV-OR staff participated in a multi-state tabletop exercise hosted by California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority in Sacramento.  The exercise was designed to explore the participating states’ capabilities to communicate about urgent volunteer needs and coordinate volunteer management efforts during interstate deployments.
The exercise was driven by a multi-hazard scenario that included a “pineapple express” storm pattern that led to flooding in northern California, heavy snowfall in the Eastern Sierra region, as well a major southern California earthquake.  This extraordinary combination of hazards led to the need for mutual aid across state lines from Oregon, Nevada and Arizona.
“We were fortunate to be able to draw on years of legislative advances and hundreds of hours of volunteers’ time given during full-scale exercises with Washington state,” said Akiko Saito from the Oregon Public Health Division’s Health Security, Preparedness and Response Program.  State law has changed in recent years to allow official state health care volunteers to deploy across state lines during certain conditions, and still keep Oregon’s worker protection and liability coverage for approved volunteers registered with SERV-OR.  The laws and program implementations have been developed and tested during full-scale exercises that saw Washington volunteers deployed in North Bend, Oregon, and Oregon’s SERV-OR volunteers deployed to Puyallup, Washington.

The new initiative with California will build on that work and develop possibly critical new partnerships. With our policies in place, we’re confident about legal issues, but there is nothing like building personal relationships and exercising and improving the nitty-gritty details of how operations might unfold. We know that if major disasters strike neighboring states that many of Oregon’s health care workers will be ready to volunteer their skills and energy. We have to do our part to support them with the most effective public resources, agencies and policies.

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