Disasters are catastrophic events that often result in extensive property damage and loss of life. Extreme devastation can occur from both man-made and natural disasters. Nurses play a major role in responding to disasters to help ensure the best possible outcomes. They usually have a desire to help, but they don’t always know where to start. If inadequately prepared, a nurse can be more of a hindrance than a help in disaster relief efforts. The best time to prepare for a disaster is before it occurs.

How Can Nurses Help?

With nursing being the most-trusted profession, the public assumes nurses will step up in a crisis — and nurses usually do. The Red Cross relies on the support of more than 20,000 student nurses and nurse volunteers to serve in disaster response teams as clinicians, educators, and leaders. A Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program can help nurses gain the knowledge and skills required for disaster response and preparedness.

Nurses serve as an essential resource and can hold a wide range of responsibilities related to disaster preparedness and response including:

Serving within their organization. Developing an understanding of the disaster preparedness and response plans, operational protocols, and security measures can help nurses understand what their employers expect of them.

Providing education. Educating consumers and the community gives them the knowledge they need to make it safely through a disaster and help others. Knowledge can also do much to alleviate fear and anxiety.

Volunteering. Nurses who volunteer and become involved with an organized disaster response system are better prepared when disaster strikes. A few organizations that offer opportunities to assist with relief efforts include the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the United States Public Health Service (PHS).

Assisting during a disaster. A nurse may be assigned a variety of tasks during a disaster such as delivering first aid and medication, assessing the state of victims, and monitoring mental health needs.

Preparing self and family. Some nurses have family members who rely on them. Personal preparation with an emergency plan and basic emergency supplies can help to ensure their families’ safety while easing the nurse’s worries. Other things to consider include arranging a meeting place if separated, ensuring reliable communication, and compiling important paperwork.

What Can the Nurse Expect?

Extensive knowledge, adaptability, familiarity with a variety of settings, and a compassionate nature are only a few of the qualities that make nurses an essential resource for disaster response.

Nurses may be confident in their chosen field, but they are not always ready to deal with the chaos that can accompany disasters. Nurses can pursue opportunities for training and preparation through an organized disaster response system and disaster certification by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). In addition, most nursing curriculum includes coursework on disaster preparedness and response. Even with extensive training and educational preparation, nurses who learn to expect the unexpected in a disaster are more nimble in their response.

Nurses may encounter challenges such as:

  • Balancing professional and personal obligations, sometimes even if the nurse has prepared at home.
  • Dealing with restrictions to volunteering that depend upon training and immunizations.
  • Working with limited resources and supplies.
  • Facing potential security and safety threats such as violence or infectious disease.
  • Dealing with legal implications related to practicing outside of the nurse’s specialty area.
  • Having to work in uncontrolled physical environments.
  • Struggling with life-and-death situations and difficult ethical decisions.

The Helping Hands of Nurses

The unpredictable and chaotic events accompanying a disaster can leave people feeling helpless. A nurse can alleviate the helplessness by supporting those in need of care and empowering them with education. We cannot always predict when disaster will strike, but we can count on nurses to lend a helping hand.

Learn more about Nevada State College’s online RN to BSN program.


American Red Cross: Nurses Serve in Many Different Ways

American Red Cross: Red Cross Nurses Put Lives on Hold to Help Disaster Victims

MedScape: Ready, Willing and Able: Preparing Nurses to Respond to Disasters

American Nurses Association (ANA): Disaster Preparedness

National Nurses United: Nurses Top Gallup Poll as Most Trusted Profession 16 years Running