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May 19, 2014

Disaster Preparedness: Nurses on the Front Line

Right now there are nurses who are responding to crisis situations around the world. Tornadoes, hurricanes, brushfires, earthquakes, and man-made disasters test even the most highly skilled professionals. Beyond the emergency room and hospital walls, nurses may find themselves serving in a makeshift triage unit or as part of a response team that is picking up the pieces in the aftermath.

Disaster response nurses play a critical role in helping entire communities heal from the impact of a devastating natural disaster, large industrial accident, or act of terrorism. They view their work as an extension of the passion that called them to nursing in the first place.

The American Red Cross has a volunteer network of over 20,000 nurses across the United States, all of whom are prepared to spring into action at a moment’s notice. In addition to disaster response, these nurses are also trained to serve their local communities through health and safety education, like CPR classes, and program development efforts for the organization as a whole.

In addition to serving their hometowns, Red Cross nurses deploy to other locations in times of need. This could be to a disaster scene a few states away or across the globe to help with the recovery of an international community that is suffering through overwhelming conditions.  Red Cross nurses also support America’s armed forces in various capacities.

Another group of dedicated nurses can be found with the RN Response Network, known as RNRN. This organization was founded in 2005 in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which uncovered fatal flaws in the nation’s disaster response mechanism. Headquartered in California, RNRN is comprised of nurses from across the United States.

Like Red Cross nurses, RNRN members mobilize to the site of disaster to provide front line support wherever they are needed most. Since their founding, RNRN has responded to a series of high-profile emergency situations including the Haiti earthquake, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and post-typhoon flooding in the Philippines.

Volunteer nurses require a strong internal constitution, along with the clinical skills and ingenuity to work in less than ideal conditions. Nurse practitioners can bring additional value as an extension of the physician team. There are also online programs that can help nurses learn about the intricacies of healthcare policy and the ethics of practicing outside of a controlled setting.

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