Nurses in Disasters

Sudden calamities, whether they are manmade or natural, can cause severe damage and endanger the welfare of large numbers of people. In emergency situations, nurses are needed to provide care to injured and emotionally traumatized patients. Nurses must act quickly to respond to a crisis. Disasters can occur at any time, so nurses have to be prepared both personally and professionally.

What Is the Role of a Nurse in a Disaster?

Mass shootings, terroristic bombings, infectious disease outbreaks, torrential flooding, tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes are a few examples of disasters. When nurses respond to a crisis, they can provide care both during a disaster and after it has occurred.

To stay alert and ready in case of an emergency, nurses should actively participate in disaster preparedness and response planning at their healthcare institution. This is especially important because they might have to deliver patient care in settings without proper equipment, supplies and support staff. The responsibilities of nurses can include the following:

  • Following the guidelines of an emergency operations plan
  • Knowing one’s role and the chain of command in a disaster situation
  • Communicating with a command center
  • Maintaining your own safety, as well as the safety of patients and coworkers

How Should Nurses Prepare for a Prompt Response?

Nurses can reduce the level of stress and chaos that is likely to happen when a crisis unfolds. They must be prepared to immediately travel to their healthcare facility or to wherever they are needed. If nurses have a spouse and children, they should create a family emergency plan. By preparing family members, nurses can relieve some of the concern they feel for their loved ones so they can focus on the emergency. A well-prepared nurse should keep an emergency bag packed with items such as:

  • CPR mask
  • Flashlight
  • Gloves
  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Extra clothes and shoes

Do Nurses Respond to Disasters Outside of Their Geographical Location?

Nurses can serve in the National Guard or volunteer with disaster relief groups such as Medical Reserve Corps, a network of volunteers who organize to help communities throughout the United States. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a call went out for additional nurses to care for victims. For example, HealthTrust WorkForce Solutions Staffing in Dallas bussed nurses to Houston. Nurses were also asked to sign up with the Texas Disaster Volunteer Registry so they could offer their services. The help was needed because nurses who live in the area were coping with the loss of their homes and taking care of their families, or they were unable to get to work because the roads were cut off by floodwater.

The flooding was so bad that many of the nurses arriving in Houston had to take boats to get to the hospitals. Most hospitals were operating on backup systems since Harvey had knocked out utilities. In some instances, rising water hampered efforts to evacuate patients.

As healthcare professionals, nurses are counted on to respond to disasters. Nurses should be motivated to properly prepare families, friends, neighbors and the community on the steps to take during a crisis. Hospitals and other facilities should ensure that nurses receive adequate training and continuing education regarding disaster preparation. They should also ensure drills are conducted and an emergency operations plan is established.

Learn more about Northeastern State University’s online RN to BSN program.

Sources: All Nurses Should Know How to Help When Disaster Strikes

American Nurses Association: Disaster Preparedness & Response

Supplemental Health Care: Distaster Preparedness: How Nurses Can Stay Prepared

American Mobile: Storm-Ready? How Nurses Can Prepare for Disasters Hurricane Harvey — Here’s How Nurses Can Help Nurses Called to Help Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing: The Role of the Nurse in Emergency Preparedness

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: When Disaster Strikes

NursingCenter: Will You Be Ready When Disaster Strikes?

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