Guiding Disaster Training Using the ICN Disaster Competencies

Nurses who volunteer to be disaster responders need education and training founded in disaster nurse competencies. The International Council of Nursing Framework of Disaster Nurse Competencies (FDNC; Dorsey, 2009), edited by the World Health Organization and the International Council of Nursing, should be considered as a guide in the education and practice of volunteer disaster nurses to ensure an effective delivery of healthcare during and after a disaster event. The FDNC allows the volunteer disaster nurse to learn basic disaster context. It is structured using four domains: mitigation/prevention competencies, preparedness competencies, response competencies; and recovery/rehabilitation competencies. These four domains are further divided into 10 sub-domains.

The FDNC were written in 2009 and have not been updated, something that is needed. The competencies were offered as an option for countries that do not have such competencies already in place and, for those countries that do have competencies, as a means of updating/validating their competencies, to guide research, and to provide a framework for training nursing students and nurses who volunteer in disasters.

To ensure that volunteer disaster nurses possess adequate knowledge, skills, and abilities to respond in a disaster, these nurses need education and training founded in disaster nurse competencies, possibly those of the FDNC. This will protect populations devastated by disasters and ensure those nurses who volunteer and respond to these disaster do so with the requisite skills and knowledge needed.

Deborah S. Adelman, PhD, RN, NE-BC
Professor, Graduate Nursing Programs, Purdue University Global

Laura Kay Wood, DNP(c), MSN, CMCN, RN
Professor, Graduate Nursing Programs, Purdue University Global


Suggested Resources

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. (2016). 2017-2022 health care preparedness and response capabilities. Retrieved from

Dorsey, D. M. (2009). ICN framework of disaster nursing competencies. Retrieved from

EM-DAT: The International Disaster Database Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters-CRED. (2017). Home. Retrieved from

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. (2016). 2015 disasters in numbers. Retrieved from

World Disaster Report. (2016). Resilience: Saving lives today, investing for tomorrow. Retrieved from

One comment

  • Julie Bulson DNP, MPA, RN, NE-BC

    While it is important to educate and elevate the competency level of the volunteer nurses I believe that we should focus our efforts on the currently staffed frontline nurses and nursing leaders. There is a well documented lack of basic emergency preparedness knowledge level of the current nursing workforce (Baack & Alfred, 2013; Georgino et al, 2015; Seyedin et al, 2015; Worral, 2012) . We know that the emergency preparedness content within many of the nursing programs is lacking so new nurses are graduating without any foundation on disaster response – basic survival skills like how to re-triage their current workload to accept a surge of patients or the difference between daily Emergency Department triage and MCI triage and resource allocation. I recently analyzed a survey of related to nurses self perceived emergency preparedness knowledge level and approximately 78.5% indicated either somewhat unfamiliar or not at all familiar with disaster response. Of these same 800 nurses that responded 81.6% indicated that they had completed 0 credits related to emergency preparedness within the past 12 months. I strongly believe that we are setting our nursing staff up for failure, increasing their stress, decreasing their resilience – all of which will increase the turnover and burn-out rates within the profession.

    It is well documented that many nursing curricula lack necessary emergency preparedness content to ensure the new nurses graduating have the practical and theoretical knowledge to respond successfully to an emergency or disaster situation.

    I have had the opportunity to guest lecture at various nursing programs in my area. As I was deciding how to approach the lecture and make it meaningful for these young students I chose to use something they were already familiar with – the nursing process. For more information around this refer to the article “Nursing Process and Critical Thinking Linked to Disaster Preparedness” (Bulson & Bulson, 2011).

    Baack, S. & Alfred, D. (2013). Nurses’ preparedness and perceived competence in managing disasters. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 45(3), 281-287. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12029

    Bulson, J. & Bulson, T. (2011). Nursing process and critical thinking linked to disaster preparedness. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 37(5), 477-483. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2010.07.011

    Georgino, M., Kress, T., Alexander, S., & Beach, M. (2015). Emergency preparedness education for nurses: Core competency familiarity measured utilizing an adapted Emergency Preparedness Information Questionnaire. Journal of Trauma Nursing, 22(5), 240-248.
    doi: 10.1097/JTN.0000000000000148

    Seyedin, H., Dolatabadi, Z., & Rajabifard, F. (2015). Emergency nurses’ requirements for disaster preparedness. Trauma Monthly, 20(4), e29033. doi: 10.5812/traumamon.29033

    Worrall, J. (2012). Are emergency care staff prepared for disasters? Emergency Nurse, 19(9), 31-37.
    doi: 10.7748/en2012.

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