This site is designed to help nurses prepare for and respond to disasters and public health emergencies.  Disasters are a global reality and the 2.8 million registered nurses in the United States are at the forefront of our ability to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters.

Nurses have understood the importance of civic responsibility since the time of Florence Nightingale and her personal response during the Crimean War. During a time of crisis nurses commonly provide care to their neighbors, their community, and their Nation – they do their civic duty.

Under Civil Defense, nurses were expected to take an expanded role, doing things not allowed during peacetime.  In the 1950’s nurses were not even responsible for triage.  However, in their expanded role under Civil Defense, nurses became leaders, directing teams of lay persons volunteering in the medical mission.  It was the nurse’s responsibility to redirect and evacuate the less critical patients to make room for incoming casualties by freeing bed space and group patients within the treatment units according to nursing needs and injury severity to make best use of personnel and supplies.  Recognizing changes and complications in patients’ conditions and deciding on the most judicious use of scarce resources the nurse could do the greatest good for the greatest number (Poole, 1960).  Since the 1950’s the nurse’s role has expanded to encompass far more than was ever previously imagined by civil defense authorities, yet it may not be enough in the worst-case scenario (i.e., a nuclear event).

Today’s nurses need to do more than provide direct patient care.  Responsibility for a person’s health includes working in the community or at the national level to ensure that appropriate policy and planning is in place to provide an effective, systematic approach to care that is based on a model that makes sense for nursing.  In 1951, it was estimated that there was a need for 65,000 more professional nurses and that need would further increase if there were a full-scale war (Joint Committee on Nursing Strategy, 1951).  Under today’s health care model, nursing numbers are still inadequate; the detonation of a nuclear device would overwhelm the nation’s ability to provide care.  The possibility of catastrophic mass casualty events requires that nursing adopt an approach that identifies three priorities: (1) self-care  (2) training lay personnel to care for themselves and others through basic first aid, and (3) judicious use of scarce resources.  Orem (2001) said, “Experienced nurses recognize life situations in which persons require the specialized health service nursing.  Experienced, efficient nurses know when their work of nursing others, caring for others, or helping others care for themselves, produces beneficial results”.

Nurses have been playing a significant role in civil defense since World War II. The changing international and political situation, as well as the growing understanding of the need to prepare for a disaster or an act of terrorism, has heightened the importance and scope of nursing participation. There is no doubt that the great contributions of nurses are their ability to organize, their ability to prepare their families in advance, and their ability to communicate across disciplines during a disaster.  Because of their great contributions during disasters, their individual preparedness is essential to national preparedness.

The goal of Disaster Nursing is to serve as a collaborative site for knowledge concerning the disaster nursing – education, research, policy, and practice. Any nurse can provide information, research, and experience related to preparedness for, response to, recovery from, and mitigation of disasters that they wish to share.

The primary approach to achieving the goal is to strengthen communication among nurse researchers and educators concerned with reducing damages caused by disasters. Since the 1940s nurses have been trying to develop an active network of nurses interested in disaster nursing and multiple organizations have been started, but none sustained largely because the interest of the government and private organizations to sustain the effort decreases the further we get from a major disaster. It is my belief that knowledge and research would grow if we freely share information and work together on research in a cost-neutral manner.

There is no funding for this effort or this site. It will be up to the community of the interested to provide information, collaborate, and share time and effort.

The information will be divided into the categories identified in the Disaster Preparedness and Response: Call to Action published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship 2016; 48(2), 1-14.

Those interested in participating or providing content should contact Roberta Lavin at lavinr@umsl.edu.

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