MOUNT VERNON — Following the tragic events of 9/11/2001, many Americans vowed they would “Never forget.”
“That day changed all our lives,” Melanie Brandt told Exchange Club members on Friday afternoon. “Americans were complacent before, but we should be ever vigilant.”
Brandt makes sure people don’t forget: Among her activities is the organization of the “Field of Honor” flag display. She also works to make sure people are ready when another disaster — whether an act of nature or manmade — strikes.
“I am very passionate about that,” she said. “That’s why I volunteer. That’s why I like to stay active. And, that’s why I like to tell my friends and neighbors and families about what I’ve learned in my training.”
Introducing a slide show of photos of the Twin Towers coming down, Brandt said, “This is the reason that so many of us are involved, and other groups are involved. This is the reason we have our Medical Reserve Corps, of which I am a member.”
The Medical Reserve Corps, she said, came about as a result of 9/11 [and Hurricane Katrina] as did the Community Emergency Response Team and the Citizens’ Corps Council. There were not enough medical and non medical personnel who had been certified or credentialed, so many individuals willing to volunteer could not. The Medical Reserve Corps trains volunteers, and keeps a data base of those who have been credentialed. That speeds up the process of getting enough volunteers to the areas they are needed.
“Preparedness is the biggest lesson we need to take away from 9/11,” Brandt, who is now part of the federal deployment team, said. “We need to think in a different mode because we are in a different world. So many people complain about the government. So many people complain whether it’s local, state or federal: ‘What are you going to do for me?’ ‘What are you going to do for me?’ It’s not about what the government can do for us. It is about us learning to help ourselves. When we start helping ourselves, then we can help others. We don’t pay the government to step into our lives and take over. People need to get out of that mode. ‘What can I do to help myself?’ and ‘How can I stay afloat?’ I think that’s part of the American pride; being able to survive.”
Brandt said Knox County has done a lot to be prepared in case of a disaster. Various agencies work together to develop contingency plans and stage disaster drills. Like Brandt, they also work to educate the public in how to be prepared. There are booklets and other materials that, for instance, tell people how much water or food they should keep in reserve in all times.
“Terrorists are always doing something,” Brandt said. “It’s so important to me personally just to be prepared. I’ve found that when people are in their greatest need, if you help yourself first, and your family, then you can help others. That’s the reward: To be able to do something positive, and that helping, even in a grim time, is positive. ... Just being able to be of service, to help.”