When disaster strikes and panic ensues, a group of heroes always emerge to save the day. But these heroes don't wear capes. Instead, they wear scrubs, wield stethoscopes and possess a unique set of qualities that transform them into lifesaving disaster-ready nurses.
Disasters, whether natural or man-made, call upon these extraordinary individuals to rise to the occasion. We’ve seen everything from tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes to multiple “once-in-a-generation" storms and the COVID-19 pandemic. Each time, nurses are among the first to arrive, the last to leave and the ones who can be entrusted to put on a brave face and confidently lead us through even the most chaotic situations. As a nurse, you won’t possess superpowers, but that makes your willingness to be calm, strong leaders in dangerous and trying times an even more heroic act.
Whether you’re already a registered nurse or just exploring the idea of joining this impactful profession, here are some of the key capabilities you need to have in your skillset to be the best you can be and the nurse we’ll all want at our side when disasters strike.
Qualities of a Disaster-Ready Nurse
To be effective in these situations, nurses should embody the following qualities:
- Emergency Preparedness: Disaster management begins with preparedness. Nurses should be well-versed in disaster response protocols, evacuation plans, and first aid techniques. This knowledge is crucial for minimizing delays and ensuring a rapid response and a level-headed attitude.
- Triage: Triage is a fundamental skill during a disaster, allowing nurses to prioritize care based on the severity of injuries. Nurses must quickly assess and categorize patients to ensure those in the greatest need receive immediate attention, maximizing time and resources.
- CPR Proficiency: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a critical skill that all nurses should possess. In disaster scenarios, there can be a surge in cardiac arrests due to stress, injuries, or other factors. Nurses must be ready to administer CPR promptly to increase survival chances.
- Critical Thinking: Quick thinking and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is crucial during disasters. Nurses often face unpredictable challenges in disaster situations and must make critical decisions on the spot, trusting in their abilities and intuition.
- Stress Management: In the face of disaster, staying calm is essential. Managing your stress as a nurse will position you to provide higher quality care, as well as give your patients a comforting presence they can trust during a traumatic time.
- Organization: Disasters can lead to chaos, making organization a valuable skill. Nurses must keep accurate records, track patient care and ensure resources are allocated wisely.
Types of Disasters Nurses Should Prepare For
Beyond their exceptional skills, these nurses must navigate the intricate landscape of disaster types, each with its own unique set of demands and complexities, including:
- Natural Disasters: Nurses may find themselves dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires and more. These disasters can result in injuries, trauma, and displaced individuals in need of medical assistance.
- Chemical Incidents: Chemical spills, leaks or exposure to hazardous materials can lead to injuries, poisoning, and respiratory issues. Nurses must be trained to respond to these emergencies and provide decontamination if necessary.
- Biological Outbreaks: In the face of infectious diseases or bioterrorism threats — and as we all saw in 2020 — nurses are crucial in limiting the spread of disease, providing vaccinations and offering guidance to the public.
- Radiological Incidents: Radiological events, such as nuclear accidents, require nurses to handle radiation exposure and its health effects, including burns and radiation sickness.
- Destructive Events: Acts of terrorism or destruction can result in a variety of injuries, from wounds to burns. Nurses play a pivotal role in immediate care and supporting recovery efforts.
Nurses also play a vital part in the recovery phase, working with communities to rebuild healthcare infrastructure and provide emotional support to those affected. Their tireless efforts often extend beyond the initial disaster, as they help people cope with trauma and rebuild their lives.
At Herzing University, we understand the profound impact that skilled and compassionate nurses make all the time, but especially in times of disaster. Our nursing programs are designed to equip you with the knowledge, skills, and qualities necessary to become a hero to your community. As a nurse, you can make a difference when the world needs it most.