Guidelines for Nurses: How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

Lately, it seems as if natural disasters are occurring more often than usual. From earthquakes to hurricanes, from floods to tornados, these natural disasters cause extensive damage to both people and property. Natural disasters are out of our control, so it can be difficult to handle them. The best thing to do, then, is to make specific preparations against common natural disasters that may occur in your area. If you grew up in an area that is often subject to tornadoes, you may have participated in tornado drills at school. If hurricanes are common in your location, your family may have flood insurance and a stockpile of sandbags to prevent damage to your home.

However, as a nurse, it can be confusing to know how to prepare for these natural disasters. After all, it’s not as if you can simply move patients if needed and there’s very little you can do to prevent damage against unexpected earthquakes.  There are certain requirements in healthcare, though, and hospitals in the United States are expected to have a plan ready to go in the event of a natural disaster. Employees are often obliged to attend mandatory training events and are urged to make sure that the hospital’s plans meet the needs of the facility and the community.

In order to ensure that these needs are met, there are a few steps that can be taken.

  1. Form a Committee

Committees often get a bad rap as a useless and ineffective method of approaching facility-wide issues. However, if created with intention and specifications, a committee can be the best way to tackle a natural disaster plan. Ideally, each department should be represented by the committee so that they all have an input in the process. Nurses are especially valued in the committee since they are present in nearly every area of the hospital and can offer critical insight.  Here are a few things to consider when forming the committee.

  • The Campus – the committee should make an in-depth assessment of the facility, whether it is a hospital or smaller clinic. Any potential issues or problems with the premises should be noted and included in the plan-making.
  • Problem Areas – a tour of the campus will quickly reveal any areas that could prove problematic in the event of a natural disaster. Messy supply closets could be an issue, and areas where large pieces of electrical equipment are stored could prove to be dangerous.
  • Equipment – while noting problematic areas, committee members will be able to notice the state of equipment being used. For example, generators should be stored correctly and in good working order, since they will provide needed power to the hospital if electricity is cut during the disaster. There should also be an adequate store of supplies since deliveries may not be able to be made during that time.
  • Discuss with Staff – The disaster committee should consult with staff members about where they live and whether they are likely to be affected by a natural disaster. For example, if a nurse resides in a neighborhood whose entrance and exit tends to flood, they may not be able to make it to work to help with hurricane or flooding relief. Once this is taken into account, there needs to be a plan in place to make sure there will be enough staff present in the event of a natural disaster.

 

  1. Consider the Patients

The patients in the facility will likely have a wide array of health problems and particular needs, and these should be assessed as soon as possible. During natural disasters, electricity is often lost. While hospitals will usually have backup generators, these won’t last forever. Therefore, patient care needs to be maintained in other ways. Nurses are absolutely crucial in determining this, since they are often the ones with the most extended contact with patients and are most familiar with the equipment used for treatment. Nurses should thus be well trained on alternate methods of treatment and care.

  1. Vendor Agreements

When a natural disaster strikes, it can be an extra challenge to receive necessary supplies and equipment from vendors to a hospital or clinic. Shortage of funds due to necessary repairs, or simply a lack of access to ordering software can prevent the facility from getting all of the supplies they need during post-disaster care. In this instance, hospitals should have a signed agreement with vendors outlining how the vendors will provide necessary supplies, and when they can be expected to receive reimbursement for them.

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

Just like you had in school, a hospital should encourage regular practice drills to help prepare employees for a natural disaster. This will also aid employees in knowing what their responsibilities will be in such an event. The more people know ahead of time, the smoother things will go when it really counts.