Disasters – natural and anthropogenic ones occur without warning. The result is usually a severe disruption of the functioning of a community which necessitates external help. Tragic events such as fire outbreaks, tornadoes, earthquakes and terror attacks involve human, environmental, and economic losses, and the affected community may have inadequate resources to cope with the disaster.
The role of nurses in disaster management is significant since they make up a vast part of healthcare workers. Their role stretches beyond saving lives and caring for the affected individuals. As taught in fundamentals of nursing, nurses offer guidance and leadership in different phases of catastrophe, including disaster preparedness and long-term recovery.
Below are the various steps of disaster and nurses’ skills in each stage.
Disaster prevention and mitigation
Needed skill: Proactivity
While humans cannot entirely evade the occurrence of a disaster, mitigation can help reduce the risks and impacts of any tragic event. Disaster mitigation starts with identifying the risks
and evaluating possible calamities and their effects on service demand. Identifying potential risks facilitates the development and planning of systems for disaster prevention.
For example, flat geographical locations are prone to flooding when it pours heavily. Building structures such as a floodway can help reduce the impact of a disaster. The rescue team, including nurses, should also have appropriate protective materials to respond swiftly to the calamity. Industrial sites that use large amounts of chemicals in their processes pose a risk of mass decontamination.
In such cases, the hospital should expect an influx of patients. Nurses may need to attend to more patients than they would on a typical day. For this reason, working under pressure is a necessary skill that every nurse should have, especially in such cases.
A proactive nurse is well-prepared to attend to patients or offer help when there is a disaster. Proactivity is when a nurse takes an active role in dealing with something before it happens. For example, reading books about disaster management may help you understand the do’s and don’ts when responding to a tragic event.
Needed skill: Strong collaborative skills
The role of disaster preparedness cannot be overstated since it determines a team’s response to a tragic event. Adequate preparation helps salvage a disaster and save as many lives as possible. Nurses have different responsibilities depending on one’s area of specialization and practice setting. A conjoined effort usually results in faster and better results.
For this reason, teamwork is an essential aspect of nurses and necessary in the case of a disaster. The following additional processes are crucial when developing a strategic emergency management plan. Determine a line of command, create a communications system, offer disaster management training for emergencies, maintain emergency facilities and equipment, develop an infectious disease plan, and establish the roles of internal and external agencies.
Needed skill: Critical thinking
Nurses need to clearly understand the preparedness phase to offer the best services to the affected individuals. An important factor in disaster response is search and rescue operations. For example, a fire outbreak usually causes property damage. Besides putting out the fire, external responses such as building shelters for the displaced people are necessary.
Nurses also need to be aware of the events of the disaster to offer appropriate patient care. For example, mass decontamination requires a facility to have adequate ventilators and an abundant oxygen supply for effective services. While attending to victims of the disaster, nurses need to understand that the patients have varying degrees of injuries and emotional distress.
A nurse should also understand that the priority of care differs from patient to patient depending on the severity of one’s condition. Correct decision-making is critical in this phase of disaster management, making essential thinking an essential skill for nurses.
Needed skill: Empathy
The response phase is categorized into two – short-term action and long-term actions. It is generally the return of the community to a normal state after a disaster. Families may have separated and some lives lost during this time. Most patients suffer psychological trauma and need emotional support from the nurses. A show of empathy towards the victims may better their experience.
Disasters are horrific, and unfortunately, they occur without warning. Healthcare workers, especially nurses, are always at the front in these rescue operations and should be well informed about disaster management.