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Published in CenterView on December 10, 2012

Associate professor of nursing makes impact on frontlines of Hurricane Sandy

By Matt Westerfield

With Hurricane Sandy churning toward the eastern seaboard in October, Dr. Carl Mangum got the call to deploy with the Tennessee-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team and fly to Maryland to assist storm evacuees.

As commander of the Mississippi-1 DMAT, on call three months out of the year, Mangum keeps a bag packed, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Unfortunately, that bag was packed with items like mosquito repellant and sunscreen lotion.

“We generally gear toward warmer, hotter weather,” he explained.

But it was a quick fix, and after hastily packing plenty of cold-weather clothes, the associate professor of nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center embarked on a mission to provide medical assistance on the frontlines of the costliest natural disaster to strike the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina.

As a federal employee for M-1 DMAT, which is part of the National Disaster Medical System, Mangum reports to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are still a developmental team, so the Department of Health and Human Services sends members out with other teams as a kind of mentor-mentee relationship,” Mangum said.

Mangum flew to Maryland Oct. 27 where his team was staged, waiting to see where the storm would strike and where evacuations were taking place.

Two days later, as Sandy was making landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., the 54-member team drove to Piscataway, N.J., where they set up their base of operations at Rutgers University. There they provided medical care for the evacuees staying at Rutgers’ storm shelter, treating a wide range of chronic conditions, injuries and chest pains.

What was it like driving into New Jersey in the middle of a hurricane?

“It’s always scary, and I’ve been through several hurricanes,” he said. “We made it to the hotel we were staying at, and we had power for maybe 45 minutes before we lost it. And we didn’t get it back all week.”

Luckily, the base of operations had electricity at Rutgers, where Mangum worked 16-hour shifts through the week.

“The top priorities of a team commander in the field is accomplish the mission and ensure the safety of the team members,” Mangum said. “Our mission was the shelters and providing medical care for the people in the shelters.”

After almost a week there, Mangum and his team were given orders to redeploy to Atlantic City as evacuees began to returning to their homes. The team packed up the convoy on the afternoon of Nov. 3, as a nor’easter was developing to the north, and drove through the night to the coast.

“It was cold,” he said. “That’s a much different mission than what we’re used to. It’s usually something in the summer when it’s hot. We were bundled up quite well.”

Mangum had plenty of moral support back at the School of Nursing. Many faculty members stayed in touch with him and followed his updates on social media.

“I just wanted him to know that I was proud of him, and that he had an important job and we were there to support him,” said Josie Bidwell, assistant professor of nursing. “It’s really good for the students to see that nursing is not just in the hospital or not just in a clinic, but it’s everywhere.

“We want them to know there are tons of opportunities out there to make an impact.”

Although Atlantic City suffered extensive damage from the winds and storm surge, Mangum said his focus was elsewhere.

“A lot of people think we get to see all the destruction, but that’s not where the people are, and we go where the people are.”

From his perspective, Mangum said, the response to the storm was handled very well.

“We worked real closely with the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey State Department of Health and the U.S. Public Health Service. All of those were great, very dedicated professionals,” he said.

“We have a lot of collaborative partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, which is over FEMA, the Department of Defense, and of course we’re in Health and Human Services. With all those federal, state and local partners, things usually work quite well.”

Mangum said the cooperation between agencies in Mississippi, like the State Department of Health, MEMA and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, as well as the resources at the Medical Center, such as the Mississippi MED-1 Medical Response Team, make the state very well prepared for natural disasters.

At the same time, “Some of that is up to us, and we have to prepare as individuals,” Mangum said. “I’m a big believer in individual preparedness.”

Mangum, who also serves as a firefighter with the Byram Volunteer Fire Department, returned home Nov. 10 at the end of his two-week deployment. He’s still in the process of recruiting doctors, nurses, pharmacists and more for M-1 DMAT.

“Currently, we have about 30 employees, and we’re still trying to build.”