Why is MA Responds necessary?
Recent experience with large scale disasters and other events has consistently shown that an effective response requires that volunteers be pre-credentialed and deployed through a coordinated effort. Well-meaning but unverified volunteers who spontaneously show up are often unable to be assigned. With limited time and resources to process volunteers, often only those with known credentials are permitted to volunteer. By registering with MA Responds, you can be part of an alert system and volunteer during a public health event in Massachusetts. Participating volunteer organizations have recognized that a statewide system will improve data management and alerting programs. MA Responds will serve as an asset to local volunteer groups and will improve volunteer coordination in Massachusetts.
Who can register with MA Responds?
Massachusetts is looking for health care volunteers and non-health care volunteers willing to assist during a health emergency or event. These persons include:
- Healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, veterinarians, and medical and health information technicians, etc.
- Public health professionals
- Behavioral health and social service professionals including psychologists, social workers, counselors, interpreters, and chaplains
- Support staff from other professions who will serve as clerical workers, data entry, greeters, traffic control, canteen workers, etc
- Volunteers may be practicing, retired, college students, or otherwise employed
MA Responds offers health volunteers and non-health volunteers a chance to join a network of people who are trained and ready to respond when called to assist local health and safety officials in Massachusetts. Even people without health care training are encouraged to join, as non-health volunteers are also very useful during a response. Volunteers are provided valuable training free of charge, and they learn how to prepare themselves and their families during an emergency.
Can I register in MA Responds if I'm not currently licensed or if I do not have any experience or training in public health or healthcare?
Yes. Whether you are actively licensed, a student, retired health professional, or someone with an interest in volunteering during a health event in Massachusetts, you are encouraged to register with this volunteer management system. Because many health professionals may already be committed to a role during an emergency, many areas are actively recruiting non-health volunteers who will assist when the need arises.
I am already a member of my local Medical Reserve Corps. How does that work with MA Responds?
This volunteer management system is a partnership of local MRCs, state unaffiliated volunteers, Behavioral Health Disaster Volunteers, the State of Massachusetts Animal Response Team (SMART) and other volunteer organizations, coordinated administratively by DPH. Under MA Responds, MRC units retain full control of their volunteers, and you would continue to work directly with your local unit. MRC volunteers in the volunteer management system will not be contacted or activated directly by MA Responds or the MA Department of Public Health without the permission of the local coordinator.
I volunteer for other organizations that do not participate in MA Responds…will this interfere with that?
You may certainly volunteer in other ways. The volunteer management system will ask you about prior commitments and ranking of volunteering preference so that this information is understood at the time of deployment. Prior commitments will be considered when deployment decisions are being made.
Can I specify that I want to volunteer in my own community or outside my community?
Yes. Within your profile on MA Responds you can select the area you are willing to travel to: local, in state, out of state. When events come up they will be shared by your unit leader with all eligible volunteers, though you are never required to volunteer for a particular event. Once you register at https://maresponds.org, your local volunteer program will receive your information. You can also contact your local public health agency to find out who is coordinating Massachusetts volunteer efforts in your area.
What kinds of local programs will I be able to work with? Do I have a choice as to what types of programs I can participate in?
When you register for MA Responds you may choose from a list of participating programs to volunteer with. As we add more volunteer programs to the MA Responds volunteer management system, more choices will become available. Also, you may choose to volunteer with other programs in your area. Check with local public health, emergency management, and private agencies in your area to see what opportunities are available.
What is my responsibility to my current employer?
You must make necessary arrangements with your employer in order to take the time to volunteer. We recognize that your employer may have particular needs and that you must choose how to respond to those needs. The conditions under which an employee will be released to assist local response efforts in Massachusetts remain between the employer and the employee.
How many people will you need during an incident?
The number of volunteers needed varies depending on the event and the needs of the community. There is also the chance that a number of volunteers will have conflicts at the time they are requested to help that prevent them from volunteering. We would like to register a large number of volunteers in the volunteer management system so each community will have enough support when the need arises.
How do I register?
Registering is as simple as logging on to the volunteer management system and entering the information requested. When you log on to https://maresponds.org, select "Register Now" to get started. You should have information about your applicable license and contact information available in order to complete the registration process. You may start and stop the registration process at any time. Simply login to the system using the username and password you have created to complete anything you have not finished.
How much personal information do I have to share with MA Responds?
You will be asked to provide details about your contact information and limited personal information required for background checks. You will also be asked to provide licensing information, if appropriate. You may choose not to provide some information, but if you do so, the extent of your volunteer participation may be limited. You will also be asked some general questions about your skills, training, and prior commitments that may determine your suitability to volunteer during a particular event.
How often should I update my information?
We request that you update your information any time you have a change in status. In addition, we recommend that you check your profile and update as needed every 6 months. Licensure information must be kept up to date or your volunteer participation may be limited.
Who will have access to my personal data?
You, your local volunteer program administrator and specified staff at the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management at DPH will have access to the data you provide to the volunteer management system. Anyone with access to the data will be trained in proper security and privacy procedures. Your information will be contained within a central, secure database administered by local volunteer groups and DPH. Your information will ONLY be used to engage you in activities related to your local volunteer program or MA Responds, including recruitment for participation in a drill or exercise, to provide you with program information or to request your assistance at the time of a public health event. DPH will not sell or otherwise provide information to anyone else without your consent.
What is required for participation?
You must first register with the volunteer management system at https://maresponds.org. Your local program administrator for your area will contact you about their expectations for participation. You may be asked to attend a program orientation or other training to help prepare you. If and when activation becomes necessary, the local volunteer coordinators will contact affiliated volunteers to determine availability. All Massachusetts volunteers can accept or refuse a request for help. No matter what the extent of the need is, these are voluntary deployments and participants are not required to respond to a request.
If you have questions about MA Responds, contact your local program administrator, or use the MA Responds website to contact us.
Do I have to have any special training or expertise to volunteer?
A general on-line introductory training is available at http://www.massmed.org/cme/maresponds. The course is intended for physicians, nurses, allied health, and non-healthcare professionals involved in emergency preparedness or interested in responding to a public health event. The course provides an overview on how to prepare for and respond to a public health emergency or other event. It is optional and intended to complement additional training volunteers will receive through face to face meetings with their local MRC or other volunteer group, additional courses recommended by volunteer coordinators, and "just-in-time" training provided on-site when you participate in an event or exercise. Your local program administrator will contact you for training opportunities that they offer or any other requirements that may be needed for participation. When you are asked to volunteer, you will know what type of event it is, where you are being asked to respond, what will be expected from you, and what you need to know to help out and keep yourself safe.
Can I get training in order to be a more effective volunteer?
All Massachusetts volunteers are encouraged to seek training opportunities that will make them more effective if deployed. You may take the general on-line introductory training that is available at http://www.massmed.org/cme/maresponds or contact your local program administrator to see what trainings are recommended or required. As new training opportunities are created, enrollees will be notified and those opportunities will be posted in MA Responds.
How can I ensure that my particular talents/training/expertise will be utilized?
When you register with the volunteer management system, you will have the opportunity to enter information about your particular skills, expertise, certifications, etc. At the time of deployment, this information will be considered by those doing the deployment. Efforts will be made to match skills with needs. You can help ensure the proper match by keeping the information about your own competencies and certifications up-to-date in the volunteer management system.
What can I anticipate that I will be asked to do as part of MA Responds?
Assignments will be made by local volunteer coordinators and DPH if there is a larger event that affects the whole state. In making those assignments, licensure, training, experience, competencies, and certifications will all be considered. You can expect that you will be asked to perform tasks that are consistent with your level of expertise.
What if multiple programs contact me to volunteer during a crisis?
All Massachusetts volunteers have responsibilities that must be met before they can respond to a callout. Whether it is your family, your job, your local MRC, local fire department, Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), or other group or organization, you will need to decide for yourself what commitments you can make and what your preference is for deployment, which you will also be able to designate in the volunteer management system. Prior to accepting deployment, you should check with others and obtain any needed consent from your employer if deployment interferes with your work schedule.
Are there any specific health concerns—e.g., vaccinations—that are required for me to participate in MA Responds?
No specific prior vaccinations are required for Massachusetts volunteers. However, in the event of certain emergencies (e.g., pandemic influenza, bioterrorism) where a vaccine or medical treatment is available you may receive it if needed.
How will I be notified that my services are required?
The MA Responds system may contact you via phone, email, text message or fax. When you register with the volunteer management system you will enter information on the best way to contact you. If a deployment is required, this is the information that the volunteer management system will use to contact you. Therefore, please be sure that the information you give is accurate and up-to-date. Any time you have any change in that information, please log on and update the information.
What if I am called and am unable or unwilling to help?
When you are called to volunteer, you can make a decision about your availability at that time. MA Responds volunteers are never under any obligation to participate. You always retain the right to decline for any reason.
How far would I have to travel?
When you register, you will have the opportunity to indicate your willingness to travel. You will be asked if you are willing to volunteer locally, within the state, or even outside the state. These preferences will be considered when deployment decisions are being reached. Specific information about the distance you would have to travel will be provided when the request is sent out.
Once I've registered, how should I prepare for deployment? What should I bring with me?
We are currently gathering a number of resources to help Massachusetts volunteers prepare for a possible deployment. Your local group may also have more information about what they would expect you to do to prepare for deployment. In the event of a deployment you will likely receive an e-mail about deployment preparation and, of course, you can always check back with your local volunteer leader or MA Responds for more up to date information.
Is there any compensation for participating in MA Responds?
Massachusetts volunteers will not be compensated for their service under MA Responds. Any person registered in the volunteer management system as an employee of an entity that will respond to emergencies may be compensated according to the arrangement they have with that entity.
Do I have professional liability and workers compensation protection?
MA Responds does not provide overarching professional liability or workers’ compensation protections. You should ask your local MRC or other Massachusetts volunteer group if they provide coverage. There are several Massachusetts General Laws that offer some form of protection to health care professionals volunteering under public health programs.