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

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


May 21, 2015

In This Article

Disaster Education and Training for Nurse Volunteers

Most nurses receive little, if any, disaster preparedness and response education in nursing school, and consequently they lack confidence in their abilities to contribute effectively during disasters.A 2003 survey of 2013 schools of nursing (348 responding) revealed that only 53% offered content in disaster preparedness, and a mean of 4 hours was devoted to this content. In general, nursing school faculty were inadequately prepared to teach disaster preparedness content.[15]

Although schools have increasingly incorporated disaster nursing content in the intervening years, there is as yet little consistency in curricular design, educational methodology, and measurement of educational outcomes of disaster nursing education.[16] Competencies have been developed by several groups to guide disaster education and practice needs for nurses and other healthcare providers:[17]

A new book, Designing and Integrating a Disaster Preparedness Curriculum (Sigma Theta Tau International, 2015), by Sharon Stanley and Thola Bennecoff Wolanski, offers a blueprint for integrating disaster nursing content into every level of nursing education, from the undergraduate to the graduate level. Nursing faculty members who are responsible for course development, practicing nurses who want to increase their knowledge about disaster preparedness and response, and those who are responsible for planning and implementing disaster simulation exercises in all healthcare and community settings will also find much of the book's content useful.

Online Training in Disaster Preparedness and Response

If you register with an organized response system, specialized training will be required and provided. However, many nurses, for one reason or another, are unable to deploy to the site of a disaster but want to be ready when disaster comes to them. Ideally, all nurses should be educated about and receive basic training in triaging and caring for victims of a disaster. Several online training courses are offered at no charge, and some even offer free continuing education credits for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Training that focuses on multidisciplinary emergency preparedness and disaster response is a high priority.

Although online courses can vastly increase a nurse's knowledge about emergencies and disasters, this method of learning has limitations. For example, although an online course can teach the cognitive principles of smallpox inoculation, it is not a substitute for the traditional educational technique of return demonstration. Giving a smallpox vaccine requires a special technique that cannot be practiced with online learning.

The National Nurse Emergency Preparedness Initiative

The goals of the National Nurse Emergency Preparedness Initiative (NNEPI) at George Washington University are to increase nurses' awareness of their roles and responsibilities in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from CBRNE events and providing nurses with comprehensive emergency preparedness training.

To this end, the NNEPI offers a highly interactive Web-based course that provides emergency preparedness training for nurses who are not necessarily planning to deploy but are working in hospitals/acute care, schools, public health, ambulatory care, hospice/palliative care, long-term care, occupational health, and home health settings.

The course, Nurses on the Front Line: Preparing for Emergencies and Disasters, incorporates elements of the critical thinking involved in performance-level training.[18] Web-based training cannot substitute for high-quality, performance-level classroom training, but the reality is that most nurses are unable to attend such a course in person. Through the online course, nurses learn how to triage, assess, and treat patients and practice clinical decision-making skills.

After completing the course, nurses are able to:

  • Prepare for the physical, psychological, and safety aspects of CBRNE events;

  • Recognize indicators of possible CBRNE events during routine care of patients;

  • Notify appropriate authorities when a CBRNE event is suspected;

  • Protect both the nurse and the public through the use of universal precautions, personal protective equipment, decontamination, evidence collection, and isolation/quarantine precautions;

  • Assess, diagnose, and treat injuries and illnesses associated with CBRNE events, with a focus on the unique concerns of special needs populations; and

  • Support the community during the recovery phase after a CBRNE event.

There is no cost for this online course, which takes about 6 hours to complete. However, there is a cost of $24 for those who wish to receive continuing education credits.

Don't Delay, Sign Up Today

If, when every new disaster hits the news, you start thinking that you would like to offer your time and expertise to those in need, the time to make your wishes come true is now. Volunteering helps not only the victims of a disaster, but the volunteers themselves. A comprehensive review of the literature on the health benefits of volunteering found a significant connection between volunteering and good health.[19] Volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, less heart disease, and a higher quality of life.

So, what's stopping you?

Web Resources

Medscape Bioterrorism and Disaster Medicine News

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Disaster Relief Volunteers


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