The Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City explodes April 19, 1995. Unforgettable images of rushing firemen carrying dying babies, police with dogs searching for survivors in the rubble, a chainlink fence overflowing with flowers, teddy bears, messages from the hearts of thousands.

The World Trade Center towers in New York City attacked September 11, 2001. Images of police, firemen and emergency technicians pulling people from the debris, family members frantically looking for loved ones, and "ground zero" becomes the visible symbol of unthinkable terrorism.

These disasters and others - made by man or nature - have changed America's perception of health and medical dangers faced across the country, within our cities, and in our neighborhoods.

In only a few years, we have become familiar with the ideas of emergency preparedness, bioterrorism, readiness, safe rooms, rapid-response, Homeland Security, anthrax risk, airport safety checks, and first responders.

A critical outcome of this changing face of disaster is the creation of organizations uniting medical, health, and public health professionals - along with lay citizens - as volunteers to help prepare for and respond to widespread emergencies.

The MRC Concept was created in 2002 in response to evolving needs. During the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, Americans across the country asked, "What can I do to help?"

The Medical Reserve Corps is designed to bring together practicing and retired healthcare professionals from a diversity of fields, including physicians, nurses, hospital and public health workers, mental health experts, and other medical professions. In addition, volunteers without a background in medical training are needed.

These professionals, working together with the non-medical volunteers, comprise the corps, which supplements existing "first responder" emergency systems.

The Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) originally consisted of four separate Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) programs; these were combined into one statewide program in 2004. Since that time, the OKMRC has expanded to include 33 local units, and over 3,200 volunteers. Administration of the state program is housed at the State Department of Health.

Other examples of disasters and threats that could require mobilizing and deployment of MRC volunteers include:

  • Biological and chemical threats
  • Explosions
  • Nuclear blasts
  • Radiation threats
  • Natural disasters, such as tornados and flooding

MRC volunteers are not limited to healthcare professionals - non-health field volunteers and students can play an important role in helping the medical teams in critical non-technical areas.