An emergency preparedness and disaster relief initiative
While Ryan Moeller was serving as staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Civil Corps of Engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan, he looked forward to coming home and resting in his native Texas. The idea of backyard barbeques and lazy Texas days with his family in Georgetown offered relief from the grueling desert heat and inspired him to work diligently to “get the job done and get home safely.”
Once back in Georgetown, Ryan joined Team Rubicon, a national organization that recruits veterans and other first responders to deploy as volunteers in disaster situations around the country. His years of experience in setting up a command structure in disaster scenarios were put to the test right here in central Texas. On April 17, 2013, at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, a fire and resulting explosion killed 15 people and injured at least 200 more. Relief aid organizations including Team Rubicon dispatched emergency responders and aid volunteers to the scene.
Ryan once again answered the call to serve for his country, this time as a volunteer coordinator for goods and services. He set up a command center at the local rodeo fairgrounds and organized triage sites. “We were able to distribute over 600 tons of food, water, and building materials to the residents,” Ryan says. “We worked round the clock to get residents appropriate shelter and medical care.”
Because of his work at the scene of the explosion in West and his impressive resume as a veteran organizing aid in foreign countries, Ryan was hired as director of Williamson County and Cities Health District’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Division. His job is to brainstorm worst-case scenarios and to map out how our local heroes could respond. He is the architect of community responses to future threats, whether from the weather, pandemic outbreaks, or terrorist attacks.
Ryan’s new job comes with a second title: Williamson County’s Medical Reserve Corps Commander. In that position, Ryan is in charge of building a volunteer force of medical professionals and trained volunteers who can assist in disaster situations. “The MRC is a volunteer-run and managed group,” Ryan says. “If you know the proper channels, you are properly coordinated with first responders and you can help.”
The Medical Reserve Corps was formed during George W. Bush’s administration as a result of Presidential Directive HSPD-5. In the aftermath of 9/11, New York City health care professionals and first responders rushed to the scene to assist others. First responders at Ground Zero were overwhelmed by volunteers and had no way to verify credentials of medical providers, prompting a temporary shutdown of volunteer aid. The MRC Registry allows individuals to be vetted, trained, and activated to respond to disasters in their communities.
Staffed by almost 200,000 volunteers around the U.S., local Medical Reserve Corps units support local public health and emergency management in large-scale events. The County and State MRC units are organized into regions and Sandi Wiggins is the Region VI MRC Liaison. She coordinates efforts for the Medical Reserve Corps units in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
“Our region experienced over 35 disasters in 2016 that MRC units were activated to support,” Sandi says. “The longest MRC activations in 2016 supported major flood events in Houston and Louisiana. When local emergency response resources have been taxed, that’s when the MRC is engaged to respond.”
This past holiday season Sandi learned of positive Zika virus cases in Texas and activated the Medical Reserve Corps. They went to work collecting patient samples, educating pregnant women on the risks of Zika virus, and counseling those who may be infected. “Outbreaks like the Zika virus are the perfect opportunities to engage the Medical Reserve Corps,” Sandi says. She’s glad that people in communities across Texas and people like Williamson County are willing to step up and create an infrastructure of trained individuals willing to help during disasters.
Williamson County is in the process of reestablishing its Medical Reserve Corps. Interested area residents will receive training and earn credentials to become part of a deployable volunteer force of citizens. “This is an opportunity not just for medical professionals,” Ryan stresses, “but for anyone interested in being a part of a response.”
Ryan points out that joining the MRC is not just about dealing with local emergencies and disasters. The Medical Reserve Corps also provides services for area veteran programs and wellness initiatives. “It’s about getting to know the needs of our communities.”