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

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


May 21, 2015

In This Article

Editor's Note: Disasters continue to occur with regularity, as we learned from the recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal, followed within 2 weeks by another major quake. Many nurses would love to have the opportunity to pack a bag and fly to the middle of the action to help out, but don't know where to start. We have updated this article with the latest information from the primary organizers of disaster relief medical assistance. All your questions, from licensure to malpractice insurance, are answered here. Nurses who just want to be better prepared if disaster comes to their own doorsteps will also find the information and resources they need.

Aid for Nepal

One of the most significant ways that you can help during a disaster is to donate money to an aid organization. To help the victims of the earthquake in Nepal, consider donating to one of the agencies in the Table . It's not too late to help.

Disaster News at Our Fingertips

Social media have rewritten the disaster response playbook.[1] The days when the news about an ongoing disaster was censored and doled out by official government sources are long gone. Americans are looking to Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites to get up-to-the minute information after a disaster. Not only is the flow of information fast-paced, but the lines of communication are bidirectional. In other words, healthcare professionals can both hear from people close to the disaster about what is happening on the ground, as well as interact, ask questions, offer assistance, and myriad other possibilities.

Crowdsourcing is often used to harness the power of thousands of individuals to locate disaster victims. When emergency response communication systems are overwhelmed, those involved in a disaster often turn to Twitter to try to find help.[2] Those seeking help can also post photographs or videos, and these visuals can have a strong impact on the social media audience.

The downside to all of this, however, is that false information and rumors can be perpetuated just as swiftly. Imposters and scam artists can appeal for donations from well-meaning social media users who have a strong urge to contribute in the aftermath of a disaster.[1] And on Twitter, in particular, unless the tweet comes from a reliable, identifiable source (such as a well-known relief agency), it can be difficult to determine where the information is coming from and whether it's accurate.

Social media appeals for volunteers ("voluntweeters") to travel to the site of a disaster should be regarded with caution, and before impulsively jumping into your car or making a plane reservation, it would be wise to seek corroboration of the validity of these requests through other channels. Finally, announcing to the universe that you are leaving your home for days or weeks to offer aid at the site of a disaster is not prudent. Social media are valuable, even potentially lifesaving, communication tools during disasters, but they must be used thoughtfully, bearing in mind the principles of volunteering during disasters that are outlined below.


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