Yankton County Seeks Emergency Volunteers

Emergencies usually don’t happen at convenient times or with advance warning.

That’s especially true with a disease outbreak or bioterrorism. A rapid response needs to be in place to serve hundreds, or even thousands, of persons.

In preparing for those needs, the Yankton County Emergency Management Office is looking for Point of Dispensing (POD) help, according to Public Information Officer Cherie Hoffman.

"POD is a group of volunteers who get together to help prepare and exercise in case there is a disaster that involves dispensing (disease-prevention) medication," she said. "There are no deadlines (to apply for POD). We’re always looking for people."

The recruitment and training needs to occur now and not wait for an outbreak of disease, she said.

"Yankton and Bon Homme counties have a total of roughly 30,000 citizens," she said. "If called upon, POD would organize within 24 hours and be ready to help citizens receive medications, vaccines or medical supplies, all within a 48-hour period. It’s a big undertaking but one that is critical to the health and safety of all of us."

POD isn’t just about giving shots or passing out medication, Hoffman said. The emergency management office is seeking volunteers with all types of backgrounds, skills and training.

"We are in need of people to help with planning, resources, security, or finance items," she said. "You don’t have to be an expert. We will provide you with the training you need."

POD welcomes volunteers of all backgrounds and does hold training sessions.

"If you have experience and skills that you think could help us, then we would love to talk to you about opportunities to be of service through POD," she said.

"We do meet quarterly and (conduct an) exercise annually. Exercising gives us the opportunity to practice and sharpen our skills. If you have an interest in helping out in your community, this may be the group for you."

While rural residents may feel safe, any type of situation can arise quickly, Hoffman said. For example, POD has been used in recent years to inoculate area residents during an outbreak.

"We could see lots of elements. It could be anything ranging from H1N1 to Ebola or something else that’s really scary stuff," she said. "You could also be talking about biohazards and bioterrorism, or a natural disaster like flooding."

POD provides a place for giving shots or dispensing medicine, regardless of the pathogen, Hoffman said.

"For our recent exercise, we conducted an influenza clinic at the school," she said. "It’s a process that keeps you in practice."

POD is a federally-instituted, best-practice model designed to provide medications, vaccines or medical supplies to a large community of healthy people during a health emergency.

POD sites will be activated in order to provide medication and/or medical supplies to the healthy community. The action is taken prior to the onset of illness in order to decrease sickness and to prevent death.

POD sites use locations — such as schools, community centers and churches — that are both familiar and easily accessible to the community. The sites are designed to serve as a place for the public to receive their medications, vaccines or medical supplies.

The ultimate goal of a POD is to quickly provide these items to a large number of people in a short period of time.

The Yankton region remains fortunate in that a large percentage of the population works in health care, Hoffman said. Those workers’ careers provide ideal training and experience for POD volunteer work.

However, some of those professionals may be needed in their jobs during emergencies, she said. In those cases, POD would draw on other individuals to fill vacancies and provide the additional care needed on short notice.

Some people may hold skills that could prove valuable for POD, such as diabetics who give themselves their shots, Hoffman said. In addition, volunteers are needed to assist people with medical conditions who still need those needs met during an emergency, she added.

She pointed to the roles that could be filled by emergency medical technicians (EMT), ambulance crews and other first responders.

"We need to fill those gaps when we lose people who are called elsewhere," she said. "People can help wherever it’s necessary."

In addition, POD volunteers are needed in other roles to keep the stations running safely and efficiently, Hoffman said. In some cases, a volunteer could wear multiple hats and fill different roles.

"We could use somebody for police security. We’re looking for people from law enforcement and firefighting backgrounds," she said. "Other people can fill out state forms or perform other administrative work. We may even need another PIO (public information officer)."

Also, POD may need volunteers to set up operations, Hoffman said. In some cases, POD will remain stationed at a facility. Other times, it may become a mobile unit.

In addition, residency isn’t an issue when it comes to dispensing or receiving treatment, Hoffman said.

"There’s no need to be part of these (Yankton and Bon Homme) counties in order to participate in POD. People can come from anywhere in the state," she said. "You also don’t need to be from South Dakota. We welcome our friends across the river in Nebraska."

Hoffman emphasized that POD volunteers aren’t on call, and they would be needed only for major circumstances. Should an emergency occur, they would receive an alert message seeking their response.

The Yankton County Office of Emergency Management is seeking more volunteers because it wants adequate numbers in times of need, Hoffman said. In addition, a larger pool of volunteers takes the pressure off everyone and ensures well-rested workers.

The best time to prepare is now, even if workers aren’t needed in the immediate future, Hoffman said.

"You never know what you need, and you plan for the worst case (scenario)," she said.

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For more information or to apply for POD, contact the Office of Emergency Management at (605) 668-5289.

For general information, follow the office on Facebook #YanktonCountyEmergencyManagement or on Twitter @YanktonCoEM.

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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