The local Northern California Community Blood Bank has joined a nationwide emergency blood reserve program that is the first of its kind. The Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, or BERC, is a group of blood centers that joined together to be prepared for disasters that may strike.
The blood centers will collect extra units of blood on a rotating “on call” schedule, to create an emergency reserve of blood. If an emergency occurs, that blood will immediately be sent to the region that needs it. If no emergency situation arises, the blood products will be returned to the blood bank’s general inventory to be used for local needs.
In many disasters – like a mass shooting, natural disaster or large-scale car crash – much blood is needed immediately. Most blood centers don’t have enough blood on their shelves to handle these types of disasters and must ask for help from other blood collectors. However, due to an ongoing nationwide blood shortage, there is very little to be shared. Most blood centers are operating with little-to-no safety net of available blood units - many report having less than a one-day supply of blood.
“The long-term drop off in US blood collections has put practically every community at risk for running dry in the face of mass casualties,” said Nelson Hellwig, administrator of BERC. “Our transfusion safety net is already saving lives and certainly will be doing so again many, many times.”
The local blood bank is stepping in to help. “As a BERC member, we will be collecting extra blood as part of an on-call schedule.” said Kate Witthaus, CEO of the Northern California Community Blood Bank. “When we are on-call, we will be asking our donors and blood drive sponsors to step up and ensure we have these extra unit of blood available to cover possible disasters. In exchange, we get the peace of mind that comes from knowing plenty of blood will be sent to us immediately if we ever need it.”
Since it was started earlier this year, BERC has already helped save lives on a number of occasions. Blood was sent to help the victims of a mass shooting at a grocery store in Memphis in September. This November, blood was sent to help the eight victims hospitalized after the school shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan.
Most recently, the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps activated in response to the devastating tornadoes that struck the Midwest on December 10.
"I'm extremely grateful to my fellow community blood centers that make up the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps (BERC)," said JB Gaskins, CEO of Blood Assurance in Tennessee. "Knowing that blood resupplies were immediately in route, already tested and processed – allowed our team to focus on getting our local supplies out to the trauma centers who were treating those seriously injured."
To sustain this program over the long term, the Northern California Community Blood Bank is seeking BERC blood drive sponsors to ensure they have the extra blood on hand when needed.