Why disaster nursing is essential for saving people’s lives during catastrophes

Susanna Kahr

Catastrophes often strike with little or no warning and are a shock for victims as well as for those who accommodate the wounded in hospitals and clinics. In a chaotic setting fraught with pain, anger and confusion, seconds count for response teams, especially for the nurses involved in patching up the damage.

On the ground, first responders are trying to sort out what’s happening as the sounds of sirens pierce the air amid smoke, explosions and fire. Or, desperate people are searching for loved ones after a hurricane, tornado or mass-shooting event. Nurses are on the front line during natural disasters, which typically involve a cascade of escalating damage, such as during a hurricane or tornado, with nurses triaging victims being a top priority. Nurses are also standing by to help in the aftermath of terrorism or a major industrial accident. You have to keep yourself collected and rely on your advanced training so you can tend to the chaos of victims during catastrophe.

Read on for insight into why catastrophes would be even worse without disaster nursing.

What is disaster nursing?

What exactly is the nature of disaster nursing? A disaster is a “catastrophic event that often leads to great destruction and loss,” as Critical Care Nurse noted, and that “causes excessive morbidity and mortality.” Making matters worse, damage to critical infrastructure limits local response efforts. Nurses fill many job roles during catastrophes, including initially working to triage patients. Then, a move to working on the most critically injured. Patients stressed by the disaster also receive emotional support and education from responding nurse, to help them cope in the aftermath.

Reasons why disaster training is important

If you’re new to the idea of disaster training, it’s worth considering why it’s so important for nurses as well as for society as a whole.

Training kicks in even when chaos abounds

If you study how to prioritize your actions, you’ll make more efficient use of your time, strength and resources much better. Practice makes perfect and also helps reduce the time you need to respond to any particular crisis.

“Personal protective equipment always available & use encouraged. Frequent inservices , safety & disaster planning.” – anonymous employer review at Kindred Homecare Agency

Vulnerable populations are counting on trained responders

Think of those who are in the most danger during a catastrophe—children, the ill/disabled and elderly people. “Evacuating a nursing home or assisted-living facility also is quite an ordeal and requires lots of preparation and planning,” explains a report from Nurse.com by Relias.

“Evacuation response for differently abled still needs work-there is no plan for what happens when the elevators are not accessible.” – anonymous employer review at ReedGroup

Repetition speeds up response

Training with teams of nurses in preparation for disaster will allow you to become more efficient, wasting less time and effort. Your disaster nursing training helps you find areas where you are weak so you can practice more and fulfill your duties as part of a group.

“HMC has helped me to grow as a nurse, and offered extensive continued education opportunities for me.” – anonymous employer review at Harbourview Medical Center

Knowing what to do next, quickly, after one phase of patient screening and triage allows you to offer help to more people coming into your facility, filling the rooms and hallways as the catastrophe unfolds. Keeping such reasons about the importance of disaster training in mind will help focus your thoughts as you prepare, study and mentally rehearse how you will respond to various conditions during disasters.

Qualifying to be a disaster nurse

Naturally you will need to have professional credentials when you are offering healthcare services to the public, whether it’s in a controlled, clinical setting or during the most urgent of disasters in a catastrophe that’s still occurring.

To get started with disaster nursing, you’ll want to apply for National Healthcare Disaster certification (NHDP-BC) via the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This is an interprofessional entry-level test that assesses a nurse’s skills, competency and training in all aspects of disaster preparedness and mitigating disasters as well as for recovery and response cycles. As the ANCC puts it, “the goal is to promote successful outcomes for the public, disaster responders, and healthcare professionals involved in a disaster.” Your credential is valid for an initial 5 years. You can apply to renew your disaster certification as early as one year before its expiration, according to the ANCC.

Beginning a new phase of your nursing career with disaster training

Your motivation to undergo disaster training shows that you care a lot about other people and want to make a true difference in the world. Building your skills so you can provide better service during catastrophes is quite admirable. Chances are, you could benefit from consulting with career development experts who have experience guiding healthcare professionals as they pursue disaster nursing.



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