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 Troy resident Debbie Bricely waits to board a Black Hawk helicopter to travel to Puerto Rico to provide aid for those affected by Hurricane Dorian, which struck different locations than first forecasted.

Troy resident Debbie Bricely waits to board a Black Hawk helicopter to travel to Puerto Rico to provide aid for those affected by Hurricane Dorian, which struck different locations than first forecasted.

Photo provided by Debbie Bricely

Troy nurse volunteers to help those in hurricane’s way

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published September 18, 2019


TROY — Debbie Bricely chases hurricanes, floods and fires.

Her children like to repeat the old joke, “Your mother wears Army boots,” because their mother, a nurse in the emergency room at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, in fact does.

Bricely, 61, recently was mobilized to help people affected by Hurricane Dorian as a member of the National Disaster Medical System Disaster Medical Assistance Team. As luck would have it, the Category 5 hurricane traveled to different points from where she and her team waited.

According to a press release, the National Disaster Medical System is a federal program that can support communities with medical care, veterinary care and mortuary assistance during disasters or public health emergencies at the request of states; it is among the resources made available by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response “pre-positioned more than 200 medical and public health personnel, along with caches of medical equipment and supplies, into areas of greatest risk for storm impact,” National Disaster Medical System Acting Branch Chief Dr. Helga Scharf-Bell said in a press release. “Many of our (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) personnel, including Ms. Bricely, were first pre-positioned in San Juan, Puerto Rico, then moved to Florida and Georgia as the path of Hurricane Dorian changed.”

The release states that Disaster Medical Assistance Team groups remain staged in several coastal states, ready to respond where and when needed as the storm continues to move up through the Carolinas and Virginia. Typically, Disaster Medical Assistance Team personnel augment medical care at overwhelmed emergency departments, coordinate with urban search and rescue teams to triage people rescued, or provide basic medical care for evacuees at shelters.

Groups are deployed for up to 14 days. If needed, new groups replace ones that demobilize home. National Disaster Medical System efforts to help residents of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia will continue until the states no longer need the support, the release states.

The system comprises approximately 5,000 physicians, nurses, veterinary staff, paramedics, fatality management professionals, and experienced command and control staff.


Boots on the ground
Although Bricely did not assist in the aftermath of the devastation from Hurricane Dorian, in 2017 she was with a team in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

Her team was mobilized to set up a hospital during Hurricane Lane in Hawaii in 2018, but it wasn’t needed.

“They sent the team to Puerto Rico ahead of time, because they expected it to be impacted. We were training all day for different scenarios,” Bricely said of her time in Puerto Rico. She and her team were later moved to Miami to set up a possible evacuee center, “but we timed out. The weather was nothing like they really thought.

“They try to pre-deploy us into areas where they think will be the most damage. We sat there ready. Your heart ached for those coping, knowing the destruction. It’s unbelievable. We sat there waiting to help.”

She said it was rough to be sent home “when there was so much suffering.”

During Hurricane Maria, Bricely and her team went house to house helping those in need.

She said she first volunteered after 9/11. “9/11 impacted me greatly. I ended up doing things at home.”

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Bricely volunteered her nursing services with the American Red Cross. “I saw how you can help people in times of crisis.”

Then she got involved with the National Disaster Medical System because, at the federal level, “you can run a hospital.”

Every deployment is different, she said.

Bricely said the teams of about 200 set up mobile hospitals to assist hospitals that are overwhelmed or damaged. Last year, during Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, she and her team took care of the residents of two nursing homes who were evacuated into a shopping mall.

She took care of the medical needs of people staying in American Red Cross shelters during the California wildfires in Paradise last Thanksgiving. “A lot of people don’t realize the (National Disaster) Medical System is out there.”

Those who deploy with the system don’t have to worry about jeopardizing their jobs.

“You can’t lose your job,” she said. “We are intermittent federal employees.”

Members of the teams train on their own time, sometimes at their own expense.

“You get so much more out of what you do when you’re helping someone,” Bricely said.

For more information about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services response to the 2019 hurricanes, visit