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Disaster Nursing in Florida

Almost every part of the world is affected by some type of natural disaster from time to time — some more than others. For instance, California is prone to earthquakes, while Oklahoma is tornado country, and Florida is known for hurricanes.

Areas susceptible to hurricanes require a specific kind of disaster preparation. Nurses are critical in hurricane disaster response, especially since they are the largest segment of healthcare workers. Through advance planning, you can ready yourself and your facility for a hurricane.

Prepare Yourself Personally

You never know exactly how a hurricane will impact you and your loved ones. American Mobile recommends that you prepare yourself for disaster on a personal and practical level first. Start with your family and gather your own emergency supplies. Keep a "go bag" at home and in your car. Don't forget portable rechargers for your mobile devices, a flashlight and radio.

Florida Division of Emergency Management indicates that families and businesses should have enough food, water, supplies and medication to last seven days. You need to be prepared in case you have to hold out until help arrives. Stock up before hurricane season and encourage others to do the same. Encourage your friends, family and neighbors to bring their supplies with them if the storm forces them to evacuate or relocate.

After you've prepared your family, you'll need to prepare yourself for work. Carry your badge with you for identification. It's helpful when you arrive at a hectic healthcare facility, and you may even be able to skip lines for gas and other necessities. Bring snacks and water with you; the hospital may only be able to provide these items to patients. Don't forget to bring toiletries and a fresh pair of scrubs as well — you never know exactly how long the emergency will last.

If the facility loses power, you'll have to go back to the basics, so brush up on dosage calculation and be ready to take blood pressure manually. And because disaster situations can be traumatic to everyone involved — PTSD is common — you may need to seek professional help in the aftermath. 

It is worthwhile to learn about past disasters that have affected your area. History can provide lessons, especially when creative problem-solving in the past resulted in innovations for care and survival.

Professional Preparation

Past disasters can enlighten you on what could come up in your workplace. Details from peers who have worked through storms like Hurricane Harvey can prepare you for the possibilities that might arise. American Mobile shares specific situations that came up in healthcare facilities.

Because disaster doesn't discriminate, your fellow nurses may need assistance. American Mobile suggests joining or forming a network to provide nursing services in a disaster so that other nurses who may be affected by the disaster can tend to their personal emergencies.

Patient needs don't pause for a hurricane. Maintain their regular care routine as best you can. You can also step in to relieve someone from a long shift or lend a helping hand at your local hospital. Fellow nurses will appreciate the consideration, just as you would appreciate theirs.

Emergency Response Systems and Plans

Make sure your workplace has an evacuation center (i.e., contracts with other facilities that will accept your patients). It's your responsibility to advocate for your patients and make sure they are evacuated to a safe location — no matter who made the decision to evacuate.

Familiarize yourself with the systems and plans that exist to help those in need during and after a hurricane.

The Florida Department of Health highlights these resources and organizations:

  • Everbridge alerts public health personnel and partners about events of public health significance. This online system also notifies ESF-8 Emergency Duty Group 1 Responders that they are needed for emergency situations.
  • WebEOC online allows for counties to request additional resources when addressing a disaster.
  • Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) has necessary supplies and medicine if there is a public health emergency.
  • Florida Medical Reserve Corps trains skilled individuals like nurses to respond to local public health and medical events.

Additionally, Florida Health notes that nurses can connect with Regional Domestic Security Task Force (RDSTF). This organization consists of first responders, law enforcement, emergency management, and healthcare facilities. It is organized into seven regions to allow for organized, concentrated help during an emergency.

Groups Providing Trained Help

As a nurse, you have additional opportunities to provide help in a disaster. You can volunteer with different organizations that deliver assistance and relief.

The Red Cross has ways for nurses to help out in a disaster. One can register to volunteer.

Nurses may assist in coordinating blood drives and in teaching first aid and CPR.

The International Medical Corps (IMC) provides volunteers during medical crises. One of the challenges for these volunteers is providing medical care with limited resources, as they function in emergency conditions. Connect with IMC for disaster nursing opportunities.

Eventually, things will normalize after the disaster. Once the initial emergency has passed, work to improve systems to better prepare for future disasters. Your professional insight is valuable, as is your personal experience with disaster nursing.

The right time to prepare for a disaster is before it happens. Fortunately, you do not have to go it alone. Leaning on the experiences of others as well as the many resources available, you can be confident in your ability to navigate the unexpected.

Learn more about St. Thomas University's online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

American Mobile: Storm-Ready? How Nurses Can Prepare for Disasters

Florida Division of Emergency Management: Preparing for the 2019 Hurricane Season

American Mobile: How Hospitals and Healthcare Personnel Are Coping with Hurricane Harvey

American Mobile: Disaster Nursing: 6 Ways Nurses Can Help After Disasters

Florida Health: Emergency Response System

Florida Health: Logistical Systems and Deployable Resources

Red Cross: Become a Volunteer

International Medical Corps: Volunteer with International Medical Corps

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