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