A Day in the Desert: Librarians Engage in Extreme Outreach

Medical Tent at Bataan March Marathon 2012

Brian Bunnett of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center staffs the medical tent during the 2012 Bataan Memorial Death March marathon.

In the course of doing their jobs, librarians Brian Bunnett and Dick Carr found themselves in the middle of the desert and in the midst of one of the most grueling marathons—the Bataan Memorial Death March. It was, they say, an educational opportunity and an awe-inspiring event.

Bunnett and Carr work at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center. They recently had a one-year contract to educate people about NLM’s disaster health information resources. To reach people who could benefit from disaster information, Bunnett and Carr joined the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps. To better understand the needs of the health providers and first responders Bunnett and Carr, volunteered with the corps and other groups staffing the marathon’s medical tents.

“It was a novel concept to some to have librarians in the mix,” Bunnett says, recalling the moment he introduced himself to a doctor, fireman, and others in the tent. Bunnett is the director of library and education services and Carr is the reference and user support services coordinator.

The two provided logistical support to medical personnel who were stationed in several tents along the 26.2 mile run/walk route. Bunnett registered everyone who came to his tent, signing them in and noting their medical concern. Carr says he was kept busy for hours, filling and emptying tubs of water and antiseptic to treat the many cases of blisters.

The Bataan Memorial Death March is not your typical run/walk event because of where it’s held and what it represents. The march honors the World War II soldiers who, after the Battle of Bataan, became Japanese Prisoners of War and were forced to walk days and miles through Philippine jungles to POW camps. The marathon is held in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, on a course described by organizers as “miles and miles of nothing but desert.” The 2012 marathon was held March 25, on a cloudless day with temperatures in the mid-80s.

Bunnett and Carr say they were surrounded by people who entered the race not for the athletics but to pay tribute to the Death March survivors. There were teams from various military branches who wore full gear with heavy packs—even gas masks. Survivors participated too. Some showed up just for the opening and closing ceremonies. A 94-year-old survivor, Ben Skardon, walked about 8.5 miles. Bunnett and Carr were able to catch a glimpse of him.

Carr describes the event as “stunning,” partly because of the number of people who participated, nearly 7,000. “And then, there was the nastiness of the course,” he adds. “Very little was on pavement.  Mostly they were running through the desert. And the last part of the course was in deep sand.”

“What got to me was the tenacity of some of these people,” Bunnett recalls. “They’d get to our tent and be torn to shreds. They’d get bandaged and fixed up for 45 minutes. Then they’d put their boots back on and get back on the course. They weren’t going to give up.” Approaching sunset, the last man to arrive at his tent was a double-amputee, still moving at a good clip.

Working at the marathon was one example of how Bunnett and Carr, “went above and beyond in carrying out their contract,” says Elizabeth Norton, a librarian with NLM’s Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC).  Their proposal was among seven accepted for a new DIMRC initiative. The initiative provides funding for libraries so they can collaborate with disaster response groups to educate the disaster workforce about NLM’s resources.

Bunnett and Carr say joining the Medical Reserve Corps put them in touch with people they might not have met otherwise and gave them an opportunity to teach MRC volunteers how to find and use NLM’s disaster resources. They also connected with, and provided training to:  the University of New Mexico Emergency Medical Services Academy, which is the lead EMS training agency; the medical school’s emergency management rotation; the New Mexico Disaster Medical Assistance Team; and workers in state laboratories. One of their biggest achievements was plugging into the University’s emergency management committee. Carr became an appointed member of the group, which is the highest disaster body on the campus.

The two say their work during the one-year contract established relationships they plan to continue.

Would they work the marathon again? “It was truly exhausting and my boots just fell apart,” Carr says. But he wouldn’t rule it out. “We’ll see. It really had its strong points.”

By Shana Potash, NLM in Focus editor

Editor’s note:
Funding was recently awarded for seven new Disaster Health Information Outreach and Collaboration Projects.