Medical Reserve Corps

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The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a network in the U.S. of community-based units initiated and established by local organizations to meet the public health needs of their communities. It is sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The MRC consists of medical and non-medical volunteers who contribute to local health initiatives, such as activities meeting the Surgeon General’s [1] priorities for public health, and supplement existing response capabilities in time of emergency. The MRC provides the structure necessary to pre-identify, credential, train, and activate medical and public health volunteers.

The Medical Reserve Corps Program (MRC PO) is the national "clearinghouse for information and guidance to help communities establish, implement, and sustain MRC units nationwide."

As of June 3, 2013, there are 936 local MRC units and more than 200,000 volunteers. MRC units are present in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Why the MRC was established[edit]

The events of September 11, 2001, underscored a need for a mechanism to better utilize volunteer medical and public health professionals. Medical providers who wanted to help alleviate the strain on local medical systems where the terror incidents occurred arrived on their own and at personal risk. Despite their intentions, their presence became problematic for emergency managers due to difficulties that arose surrounding the use of spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers.

Some of these issues included volunteer credentialing, liability, and management.

  • Credentialing—Credentialing is a process by which volunteers’ degrees, certificates, licenses, and training are verified. September 11, 2001, demonstrated that it was difficult or impossible to verify volunteers’ licenses and professional qualifications when the emergency management system was overloaded or shut down.
  • Liability—Questions that arose surrounding liability included:
    • Who would provide legal protection for volunteers, many of whom had come from other areas of the country?
    • What should occur if the volunteers were injured?
    • How would they be treated or compensated?
    • Who would manage and supervise the volunteers?
  • Management—Ultimately, most volunteers were turned away because emergency and local medical managers with limited resources, focused on emergency response, and accounting for their own personnel were unequipped to handle spontaneous volunteers.

Subsequent emergency situations, such as the anthrax mailings in October 2001, further highlighted the need for an organized volunteer response system. Federal, state, and local response assets were able to provide prophylactic doses of antibiotics to thousands of individuals who may have been exposed to anthrax spores. Leaders quickly realized, however, that they would have been overwhelmed if the number of individuals at risk was much larger. Point of distribution sites would need more workers, including many more health professionals.

Lessons-learned sessions and after-action reports from the response to September 11, 2001, and the anthrax mailings discussed the need for a more organized approach to catastrophic disasters. They also identified many of the issues that needed to be addressed, including volunteer pre-identification, registration, credentialing, training, liability, and activation.


The MRC was founded after President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address, in which he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country. The MRC is a partner program of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Peace Corps, are part of the President’s USA Freedom Corps, which promotes volunteerism and service nationwide.

The MRC PO also has a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). This agreement enables NACCHO to assist the ASPR's Medical Reserve Corps Program Office in enhancing MRC units' ability to meet local, state, and national needs through collaboration, coordination, and capacity-building activities. These activities include:
* Coordinating the distribution of grant funding
* Developing a national marketing strategy
* Publishing a quarterly national newsletter
* Assisting in the planning of regional and national meetings
* Developing materials, resources, and tools to strengthen the knowledge and skills of MRC members

In addition, NACCHO's relationship with almost 3,000 local health departments further serves as an avenue to promote the MRC program at the local level.

Local and national organization[edit]

Locally, each MRC unit is led by an MRC Unit Director and/or Coordinator, who matches community needs with volunteer capabilities. Local MRC leaders are also responsible for building partnerships, ensuring the sustainability of the local unit, and managing resources. Partnerships typically include local public health and emergency response agencies, community businesses, and neighboring MRC's. Local MRC units are typically housed under Health Departments or other local governmental organizations.

Nationally, the MRC is guided by the Medical Reserve Corps Program Office, which is housed in the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Office of Emergency Management. The MRC Program Office serves as a clearinghouse for information and best practices to help communities establish, implement, and maintain MRC units nationwide. It sponsors an annual leadership conference, hosts a Web site, and coordinates with local, state, regional, and national organizations and agencies to help communities' preparedness. There are also Regional Coordinators (RCs) in all ten of the Department of Health and Human Services regions.

Many states have appointed State MRC Coordinators to help plan, organize and integrate MRC activities within the State. The MRC Program Office staff and the RCs collaborate with the State Coordinators to better integrate with local and state planning and response activities. All local MRC units are encouraged to collaborate with State Coordinators.

Types of volunteers[edit]

Medical Reserve Corps volunteers working on a computer.
A Medical Reserve Corps volunteer takes a woman's blood pressure.

Possible front-line medical and public health volunteers include:

  • physicians (D.O.) or (M.D.)[1] (e.g., including surgeons, medical specialists)
  • physician assistants
  • nurses (e.g., APRNs, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses)
  • respiratory care practitioners
  • pharmacists
  • dentists
  • dental hygienists
  • dental assistants
  • optometrists
  • veterinarians
  • emergency medical technicians
  • paramedics
  • nursing assistants
  • public health workers
  • epidemiologists
  • infectious disease specialists
  • toxicologists
  • mental health practitioners (e.g., psychologists, substance abuse counselors, social workers)
  • health educators/communicators
  • other medical and public health professionals

Possible administrative and other support volunteers include:

  • administrators and business managers
  • administrative assistants and office support staff
  • drivers
  • chaplains
  • training directors
  • trainers
  • volunteer coordinators
  • fundraising professionals
  • supply and logistics managers & workers
  • interpreters/translators
  • amateur radio operators
  • other support personnel

Volunteer activities[edit]

Activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Supporting local public health, while advancing the priorities of the U.S. Surgeon General, which are to promote disease prevention, improve health literacy, eliminate health disparities, and enhance public health preparedness
  • Emergency Sheltering
  • Disaster Medical Support and Mass-Casualty Incidents
  • Assisting local hospitals, clinics, and health departments with surge personnel needs
  • Participating in mass prophylaxis and vaccination exercises and community disaster drills
  • Training with local emergency response partners
  • Providing First Aid services for fundraising and other events


  1. ^ Staff writers. "Guide to Volunteer Recruiting" (PDF). Medical Reserve Corps.

External links[edit]

State Guard Pfc. Kyle O'Boyle with the Galveston County Medical Response Group of the Texas State Guard checks the blood pressure of a patient during a humanitarian mission in Laredo, Texas.

Federal- and national-level reports and documents[edit]

Local MRC websites[edit]

State of California

State of Colorado

State of Florida

State of Georgia

State of Iowa

State of Kansas

State of Maine

State of Maryland

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

State of Michigan

State of Minnesota

State of Missouri

State of New Jersey

State of New Mexico

State of New York

State of North Carolina

State of Ohio

State of Oklahoma

State Of Oregon

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

State of Texas

Commonwealth of Virginia

State of Washington