CPHP’s Van Nostrand launches ELI, new award-winning legal tool for emergency volunteers


Each year the Medical Reserve Corps Program (MRC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, presents awards to highlight the success of the program and recognize outstanding contributions. In 2017, a team from the Center for Public Health Practice received the MRC National Partner Recognition Award, which honors those that supported MRC units in carrying out their local missions and who have provided MRC units with more opportunities to participate in public health, preparedness, and response activities.

ELIZABETH VAN NOSTRAND, principal investigator, and her team were recognized for their development of the Emergency Law Inventory (ELI), a repository of statutes and regulations that impact volunteers participating in emergency response activities on the topics of liability, license reciprocity, scope of practice, and workers’ benefits. The laws in ELI are searchable by jurisdiction, area of law, and profession. ELI was developed to aid MRC volunteers in addressing the MRC Core Competency “know your laws.”

The MRC cited the strength of ELI and the team’s willingness to work collaboratively as key reasons for the award:
As an exemplary partner in our mission and endeavors, you have played a significant role in helping to raise the MRC network’s awareness and understanding of existing laws that affect volunteerism within the United States. The information that you have provided strengthens the MRC network. We are grateful for the willingness of you and your staff to collaborate and offer expertise with the MRC network, and for the tremendous assistance and resources you have provided. Your work is invaluable to the MRC network.

Volunteers are a vital disaster response asset — they are critical for both national health security and emergency response and recovery efforts. For example, volunteers were invaluable in responding to terrorist attacks (such as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings), natural disasters (Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, Superstorm Sandy, and the Joplin, Missouri tornados) and infectious disease emergencies (like the H1N1 Influenza pandemic).

Volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including clinical and non-clinical professions, which is both beneficial and challenging. Diversity is a strength because it allows participation in numerous activities, like training exercises, establishment of emergency sheltering, provision of disaster medical support, and coping with medical facility surge capacity. But the lack of uniformity also creates division, impedes the standardization of volunteer programs, and makes it difficult to create a baseline for knowledge and skills.

Another important issue for volunteers is concern over legal matters. A 2012 Department of Health and Human Services survey of the Medical Reserve Corps showed that nearly one-third of unit leaders were concerned that legal issues negatively impact their ability to recruit volunteers. One-quarter felt legal concerns impede volunteer response.

Identifying legal issues and accessing laws can be difficult, even for lawyers. Although many laws are available on the internet, how can volunteers identify those impacting them specifically? How can they be sure all of the laws relevant to their activities are identified? And how do they know if the laws are updated and current?

ELI removes these barriers and gives users clear, concise summaries of those laws impacting participation in emergency activities. The laws are searchable by profession and jurisdiction so users can identify the provisions that impact them specifically.

Learn more and view an informational video at Send feedback or questions to

The ELI tool was developed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health's Center for Public Health Practice and its partners at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Allegheny County Health Department, and Mahoning, Trumbull, and Columbiana Counties (Ohio).

The project was supported by the Cooperative Agreement, Number 5 U36 OE000002-04 505, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.


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