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Volunteerism through social networks for community-based preparedness and emergency response Open Access

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In the six years following Hurricane Katrina, blame for response and relief failures has passed among local, state, and federal officials, first responders, national agencies, and non-profit organizations. Despite the preponderance of failure stories, there were both preparedness and response efforts on local levels, within neighborhoods, parishes, and religious organizations, which safely evacuated people before and rescued people following the flooding. Little has been written of these efforts in current research, but the examples raise questions: How can an organization and its members be engaged, committed, enrolled and retained as Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) -- a community-based volunteer organization which works with a community's health department to provide aid before and during a disaster -- partners? What is the process necessary to accomplish this? Can the social networks -- and through them, the new MRC members -- show improved community-oriented preparedness and emergency response as compared to self-selecting MRC members trained through the control group? The study investigated the processes and challenges in engaging, committing, enrolling, training and retaining social networks and their members as Alexandria MRC volunteers. Additionally, the study assessed community-oriented preparedness, as a function of knowledge level and self-assessed preparedness, and emergency response using up to two evaluated medical dispensing exercises. Challenges in engaging social networks and enrolling them in training after their initial commitment delayed the research but simultaneously yielded information about individuals' and organizations' commitment to volunteerism for community-oriented preparedness and emergency response. At the conclusion of the research, 17 groups had been engaged, one control group and four social network cohorts of the study group enrolled in training, three conducted short-term exercises, and one conducted a long-term exercise. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses led to conclusions regarding the utility of MRC-social network partnerships and recommendations for next steps. The study provides small-scale examples of issues that may be encountered by current government policies requiring preparedness and emergency response partnerships implemented with social networks. Further, it illustrates an interesting dichotomy between level of knowledge, which appears to increase with training, and self-assessed preparedness, which appears to remain constant even with additional knowledge.

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