Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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City considers plans for local emergency medical corps

After Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, Jennie Wallace rushed to Slidell, La., where one thing she expected to find everywhere was nowhere in sight: doctors.

Wallace volunteered at a makeshift hospital in the days after the disaster as a member of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. Registered nurses and other EMT volunteers managed the immediate health crisis, but the American Red Cross turned away qualified doctors who lived just miles away from the chaos, said Wallace, a Des Plaines resident.

Evanston health officials met with Wallace and about 20 residents Thursday evening to unveil plans for the city’s Medical Reserve Corps, the Evanston branch of a national organization. The organization accepts medically certified volunteers who can commit to helping in disaster situations, aiming to make sure qualified medical personnel would be available in an emergency.

Wallace had one piece of advice for Evanston health officials as they create the city’s emergency medical volunteer group: get doctors on board.

“When we were in Louisiana, we would have killed for a doctor,” Wallace said.

Only one doctor attended the meeting – a foot specialist. Most attendees were nurses.

Tom Janetske, assistant director of the city’s Emergency Services and Management Agency, led the discussion. Those who commit to the program will help with evacuation efforts and help at shelters and clinics, Janetske said.

The Reserve Corps will not participate in handling any hazardous material, even in the event of that type of disaster, Janetske said. But natural disasters are not the only threats to Evanston’s safety, and the organization would be trained to handle other such events, he said.

“Does it have to be a terrorist attack? No, it can be a derailed train,” Janetske said. “Anything can happen anywhere.”

The group of volunteers would be trained using online programs designed by the National Incident Management System. The training course takes about 20 hours to complete and involves lessons in communication and emergency preparedness.

Volunteers also would need to go to a training session at least once every two months, according to the program’s brochure.

Exercise would be another component of training, Janetske said. The exercise routine would encourage teamwork, build comraderie and keep the unit active.

“It doesn’t do any good to put together a team just to say, ‘Hey, look at us. We’ve got a team,'” he said.

Time was a major concern for residents who expressed interest in the team. Several audience members wondered how long training sessions would last and how medical professionals would find extra time to volunteer for the city.

“Before you commit to our program, you need to ask yourself, ‘Do I have the time, and if there is a disaster, does my commitment belong elsewhere?'” Janetske told the crowd.

The average cost to train one person ranges from $2500 to $3200, Janetske said. Federal money covers most of these costs, but the city is approaching corporations and looking into private funding sources.

Still, Janetske and others said it was a necessary investment after Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11, we’re at a different place medically,” Evanston resident and attendee Benita Kapnick said. “It’s imperative that we have an emergency medical care system in the city.”

Reach Vincent Bradshaw at [email protected].

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City considers plans for local emergency medical corps