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How Nurses Can Help During Disasters

No one can stop a disaster. Training and education on disaster readiness should be presented as if the next disaster is inevitable. Courses in Mississippi College's online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program can help nurses develop skills in care coordination and readiness to work in a variety of settings. These qualities, along with vast medical knowledge, make nurses an essential resource for disaster assistance.

Disaster Preparedness Starts at Home

A nurse's obligation is to care not just for others, but also for themselves and their families. Nurses must prepare themselves so they are available to help others. Personal disaster preparation can reduce worries about their loved ones' safety.

Personal Preparation:

  • Arrange for a reliable method of communication between family members.
  • Determine a specific meeting place to reunite if separated.
  • Outline a backup plan for caring for children, dependents or pets.
  • Gather basic emergency supplies such as medication, cell phone chargers, flashlights, etc., and put them in a single location.
  • Ensure elderly family members have appropriate medical identification bracelets.
  • Store important paperwork in a manner safe from fire and water damage.

Understand Your Job Obligations

Nurses should be familiar with their employer's disaster preparedness and response plans so they are aware of obligations to their employer. Planning and preparation can help to reduce confusion during a disaster and enable nurses to understand their responsibilities.

A nurse's professional responsibilities may include the following:

  • Reviewing the organization's disaster plan and policies.
  • Determining how and when patient evacuation should occur.
  • Studying operational protocols for protective equipment, immunization and security measures.
  • Participating in emergency drills.

Explore Opportunities With Volunteer Agencies

A nurse's compassionate nature can assist in relieving the stress and fear that often accompany a disaster. A nurse can assume a variety of roles which could include providing community and consumer education, administering first aid and medication, assessing victims and special-needs populations, or monitoring the mental health needs of responders and victims. Nurses can help prepare for a disaster by gaining education and by being part of an organized response system.

Organizations that offer opportunities to work in long-term relief efforts include:

  • The American Red Cross.
  • Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
  • United States Public Health Services.

Educate Yourself to Prepare for a Disaster

Nurses can prepare for a disaster by adding emergency preparedness to their knowledge base. The National Healthcare Disaster Certification by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) provides training specific to disaster preparation. This can assist in preparing nurses for unexpected challenges during a disaster such as:

  • Ethical considerations when facing a lack of resources or supplies.
  • Strategies for debriefing and providing emotional support after a disaster.
  • Legal implications of going outside of the nurse's scope of practice.

Dealing With Difficult Questions

Recent mass shootings have prompted conflicting opinions. Some nurses may avoid these challenging, volatile topics for fear of offending family and friends, but many people consider nurses a trusted source of information. This trust can help open conversations for the difficult questions a tragedy can prompt.

Nurses can take this opportunity to engage others in evidence-informed conversations and work together to form applicable solutions in the policy-making process to prevent the next tragedy.

Some questions that may arise include the following:

  • Should there be stricter gun laws?
  • Can we respect the mourning period before taking action?
  • What is the nurse's responsibility during a mass shooting?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes the importance of preparation for a seamless coordination of disaster response. This requires nurses working in conjunction with the community in a continuous cycle of planning to keep healthcare facilities functioning and providing quality care during a disaster.

Expect the Unexpected

A nurse's first step in preparation is having a disaster plan for themselves and their family. It is impossible to predict when the next disaster will occur, only that one could. Every role is important in disaster preparation and relief efforts. Nurses can prepare today to deal with unexpected disasters by taking steps to understand their responsibilities and obligations.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online RN to BSN program.


American Nurses Association: Who Will Be There? Ethics, the Law, and a Nurse's Duty to Respond in a Disaster

American Nurses Association: Disaster Preparedness & Response

Journal of Nursing Scholarship: Nurses as Leaders in Disaster Preparedness and Response - A Call to Action

AWHONN Position Statement: The Role of the Nurse in Emergency Preparedness

The New York Times: The Importance of Being Prepared for a Natural Disaster

American Nurses Credentialing Center: National Healthcare Disaster Certification

American Red Cross: Be Prepared for an Emergency. Be Red Cross Ready!

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