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What Nurses need to know about Disaster Preparedness

Nursing professionals have a responsibility to stay aware of current protocols and response practices as part of nurse disaster preparedness. This is the first line of defense in controlling what is often a chaotic situation. Today’s unstable environmental and political climates put us at an even greater risk for man-made events such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters like a hurricane. Even infectious diseases can reach epidemic proportions at an alarming rate. Disaster planning means nurses are able to assist the general public by responding to sudden health threats.

Things Nurses need to know about Disaster Preparedness

Disasters by Definition

One point of confusion is the difference between emergencies and disasters, according to the American Journal of Nursing. An emergency is an event handled by local resources such as a fire department. A disaster is a catastrophic occurrence that disrupts essential services like housing and communication, and requires outside aid. Disasters become a public health concern extremely quickly.

Disaster Classifications

Disasters fall into different categories. Understanding the classification of each defines the level of response necessary.

•Natural
•Chemical
•Biological
•Nuclear
•Explosive

Different categories require different disaster response and protocols. The first step in disaster preparedness is to become familiar with the variety of incidents and their standard contingencies.

Calls to Action

A common place of concern for nursing staff is the legal requirement to act in an emergency. When disaster strikes, nurses may want to stay with their families or be hesitant to leave their current environment if they feel at risk. Disaster protocols differ from state to state. In some areas, the failure to act by nurses during a call to action is punishable. Others rely on their natural inclination to serve in a voluntary fashion. A nurse must fully understand the legal elements of responding during a disaster.

Voluntary Service

Volunteering ahead of time is a practical way to eliminate confusion. After the disaster hits, panic and chaos will rule. This is a poor time to contemplate volunteer options. Instead, nurses should pick an agency and pre-register for service. The organization will help identify the steps to take if a call to action comes during an event. Discuss volunteering with your employer prior to committing to service. Some have rules regarding disaster response that may interfere with volunteering. Violation may mean re-employment after containment is not possible. An employer must agree to work release prior to the disaster for the nurse to have any job security.

Expectations for In-House Response

Nurses need to understand how regular facility operations change during a disaster. Most hospitals continue functioning as usual, but there may be interdepartmental modifications as part of the disaster management. For example, surgeries may be cancelled automatically to open suites up for emergency service. The unit will have designated shelter locations and a triage center. Part of disaster preparedness is acquainting yourself with the guidelines for disaster response in a work facility. Nurses must know where to find the core competencies explaining the function and service line options.

Chain of command is a critical piece of information for everyone involved in emergency response. Typically, the Incident Command System defined titles and roles for each agency. This includes designating incident commanders, safety officers and interagency liaisons.

Ethical Issues

Ethics can be sketchy in disaster situations. Nurses should be aware of the Nursing Scope and Standards, as well as regulatory issues. Nurses working as volunteers should understand their distinctive role as responders.

Continuing Education

Disaster planning is a skill set that requires development like any other. Formal classes and certification courses are available in disaster training. Most institutions provide nurses disaster preparedness as part of the curriculum. Healthcare professionals should plan to expand their knowledge after graduation through continuing education, states the American Nurses Association. By revisiting the study every few years, a nurse stays current on local protocols and skills.

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association

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Specialized, industry-current degree programs in Health Administration Services, Healthcare Management and Nursing.

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Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University - College of Nursing & Health Care Professions. Online & Campus - Bachelor's and Master's Degrees!

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Baker College Online

Baker College is proud to be the largest independent college in Michigan with the most focused approach to education and training available. With one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country, our mission is to help our students find meaningful employment.

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Fortis Institute

Fortis Medical Assistant Program

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Fortis Institute

At Fortis Institute, you may get the skills and training you need to prepare for a career.

* Programs vary by location

* Please contact each individual campus for accreditation information


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Medical Careers Institute

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Liberty University

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Keiser University Graduate School

For over 35 years, Keiser University has maintained a practical, hands-on approach to career education to help our students achieve their personal and professional goals. 

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Wilkes University

Wilkes University’s School of Nursing offers CCNE-accredited online degrees and certificate programs ideal for working health care professionals, instructed by experienced, respected faculty dedicated to mentoring and personalized support for every student.

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Northcentral University

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South University

As a student at South University, you will have the opportunity to learn from accomplished faculty members who have real-world experience in the subjects that they teach. Our small class sizes allow you to receive personalized attention from instructors, and the encouragement to recognize your goals for the future and the means to achieve them.

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