Chances are when you think of natural disasters, the first things that come to mind are hurricanes, notably Katrina and Sandy. And well they should; they’re huge, frightening, devastating, and affect large swaths of populated areas. But hurricanes are not the only catastrophes you might have to deal with during your career. During any kind of a disaster, from a snowstorm to a large-scale natural disaster on the level of a wildfire, tornado, flood, or hurricane, nurses are always in great demand.
Any situation that precipitates a health crisis creates an “all hands on deck” scenario for every nurse in the area, and any travel nurses that can be enticed to lend a hand. But before you take a job in a disaster area, you should consider the additional stress. Can you handle the chaos and uncertainty of injured and sick people who may also have lost homes, loved ones…everything? You may step in later in the cleanup after things have begun to return to normal, or you may already be in place when disaster strikes. Either way, catastrophic situations often call for extraordinary calm and preparation.
Most facilities have some emergency preparedness plans in place. Make it your business to know what is expected of you, and take part in drills and exercises meant to build emergency skills. Know where to report and how to get around the hospital if the power goes out.
If you’re caught in the aftermath of a catastrophic disaster—or watching a hurricane come at you–having a personal plan mapped out in advance can be a lifesaver for you and the people who need you.
Here are a few things to include:
• Family first. If there’s an approaching danger and you can get your family out in advance, do so. You may feel obligated to stay, but worrying about the safety of your family will negatively impact your job performance. Make sure they’re safe before reporting for duty.
• Communications may be disrupted. Towers and phone lines may be down. If communications are not completely disrupted, texting will be more practical than phoning. Text messages put less demand on an overburdened system, and as a result, are more likely to be successfully transmitted.
• Transportation may also be disrupted. Depending on the nature of the event, it could be days or weeks before public transportation or roadways are restored. After 9/11, the power was cut to Manhattan, leaving millions of workers with no choice but to walk. A good preparation plan would include alternative routes for driving, all possible forms of public transportation, and, if feasible, a bicycle.
• Pack a bag. When you report to the hospital, you may be there for a while. No matter how hectic things get, small comforts like a toothbrush and deodorant are welcome.
Have you thought about what you’d do if there were a natural disaster? Have you already been there? We’d love to hear your thoughts.