Preparing for the Unexpected
During the Fall 2016 semester, I assisted the Hays County Emergency Preparedness Department in an internship that provided me hands on experience with tabletop exercises, POD simulation, and other aspects the department uses to assist the community in the case of a disaster. With classes in both Anthropology and Sociology under my belt, I felt like there was a lot I could offer Hays County while also getting some experience in emergency management. After all, I am looking at getting a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in emergency preparedness. In this overview, I will be explaining the projects I had throughout the semester and explaining why social science and social research is important in Public Health.
The Hays County Emergency Preparedness Department monitors potential emergency events, trains communities on how they can prepare themselves and help their neighborhood and community, organizes events to introduce the public to emergency service personnel, and assists in disaster relief. The department works with national organizations (FEMA, the CDC, and the Department of Homeland Security), statewide organizations (Health and Human Services, Department of State Health Services), and local organizations and companies (Gary Job Corps, Sam’s Club, HEB, Local Health Department, Seton Hospital, Texas State Medical Explorers).
POD sites are locations where groups of people have volunteered a large space and willingness to assist in disaster relief or mass prophylactic measures. Organizations and individuals who expressed interest in operating a POD sign a Memorandum of Understanding, and are therefore listed as a possible POD site should an event arise. When notified of an event, these POD sites have the option of accepting the assignment and opening the POD, or refusing the assignment. The scenario I asked in the tabletop exercise cited a large number of POD sites declining to open, thus leaving parts of the county with limited POD access and overcrowding at other POD sites.
Volunteer Management: Points of Dispensing
Following the POD simulation, tabletop exercise, and the hot wash, I was asked to design a Volunteer Management PowerPoint. Unsure of what information was to be included in the PowerPoint and the audience, I split it into several different sections. To understand which groups are most likely to volunteer should an event happen, I found volunteer rates by demographics and states on the website for the Corporation for National and Community Service through AmeriCorps. Volunteering rates in the state have been on a decline since 2004 and are greatly lower than the average in the United States. Texas is ranked number 39 out of the 50 states and DC in their volunteering rates.
Volunteer Management: Mass Fatality
After completing the Volunteer Management PowerPoint, I was asked to add additional job action sheets for volunteers who may work at a shelter and/or an assistance center as the result of a mass fatality incident. Mass fatality incidents are events that result in a large number of deaths and exhaust resources, such as funeral homes and morgues. Most commonly, mass fatality incidents occur as a result of natural disasters or man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks or plane crashes.
A recent example of a mass fatality incident—though it most likely did not exhaust resources—is the warehouse fire in Oakland, California. A large number of people perished in the fires. As a result, there was most likely a disaster assistance center or family assistance center set up. Family and friends of those who attended the warehouse party arrive at the assistance center and workers there are trained to use any and all resources to track down the missing individual to determine if they are injured, alive, or have passed away.
Similarly to the anthrax project, mass fatality required some additional research into the different assistance centers and the job positions available at each site. There are generally three different kinds of assistance centers: disaster assistance, reunification centers, and family assistance centers. The disaster assistance center is to provide services and support to anyone affected by a disaster. The reunification center is meant to reunite relatives and friends after a large-scale disaster. Finally, family assistance centers are locations to collect information about missing individuals to determine the identity of the deceased.
With job action sheets added to the Volunteer Management PowerPoint, I was asked to then research funeral customs and burial requirements specific to each of the religions I had listed in the demographic portion of the PowerPoint. Additionally, I added funeral customs to the ethnicities in the PowerPoint as well. All religions and ethnicities have their preferences in relation to cremation, organ donation, how the body should be buried and the length of time to bury the body after death, and even superstitions on spirits haunting this world if they experienced a violent death. Funeral customs were an interesting aspect to research, however, the customs may vary due to certain factors. If an individual is a third generation Somali-American, the funeral customs may have more Christian aspects rather than Muslim aspects depending on the degree of acculturation to the mainstream American culture.
The internship at Hays County Emergency Management was definitely a rewarding experience. Through the whole internship, I was able to meet a large number of individuals who are important to Hays County, the Central Texas Region and the city of San Marcos. As a result of the networking among the Hays County departments, I was offered a sociology internship in the spring at the local health department. My current supervisor was very impressed with the amount of work and research I put into the internship and recommended my services to the health department director, who wasn’t so sure about an intern. The Emergency Management department was able to get a lot of projects done with my help, but the health department is always accepting of additional help.
Social research on the populations in the county is important to providing specialized care to all groups in the county. Throughout every project this semester, I was able to utilize my quantitative and qualitative research skills to include demographic information about Hays County. I was later informed that all of the demographic information will be useful for the Emergency Management department in the process of accreditation. In the end, the detailed racial and ethnic demographics and list of religions proved to be key information. Expanding on the cultural and religious views on illness construction, medical treatments, death and dying, and burial requirements are information that will be necessary should a large-scale event happen in Hays County.