On Friday, December 23, 2022, nurses and other healthcare professionals found themselves stuck at the VA Medical Center during the massive snowstorm that hit Buffalo, New York. Despite the harsh winter conditions, staff were advised that they were mandated to report to their shifts which led to several employees, including nurses, being stranded with no way to get home due to unsafe driving conditions and road closures.
One nurse, Michael Buehlman, RN, reported being stuck at the hospital for over 66 hours and wasn’t able to sleep for 23 hours at one point. Other nurses reported that they were at the hospital for 72 hours from Friday to Monday morning, unable to go home.
When working in areas where there are chances of natural disasters or emergency crises, it is essential to know what to do and be prepared. When disaster strikes, you may end up being stuck at your facility for an unknown amount of time.
While it is not legally mandatory for nurses to work in a disaster, each facility may require nurses to show up during their scheduled shifts and enact mandatory overtime. Nobody truly knows when a disaster will strike, so it is best to prepare ahead of time. Knowing how to prepare can help nurses be equipped with skills to use during a disaster or crisis situation.
10 Tips For Nurses To Prepare For a Weather or Natural Disaster Crisis
Know your hospital’s disaster protocols
Look into your facility’s policies and procedures on what to do when disaster strikes so you are prepared. The policies should cover the four phases of disaster: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This information may include what to do, who to report to, the most likely scenario for your hospital, and more. Every facility has a disaster protocol and is required by law to keep it updated.
Familiarize yourself with where the emergency supplies are
After you have read over your facility’s disaster protocols, you should then familiarize yourself with the location of emergency supplies, important meeting locations, and backup resources. Ensure you know where your PPE is located, including hazmat suits or respirators. If your pneumatic tube station is no longer functioning, ensure you know where to go if you need a pharmacy, laboratory, or other locations. Also, in certain situations, you may need access to backup resources; knowing where extra resources are can save time in an emergency.
Notify your family
Communicate with your family if you plan on leaving for work if there is a possibility you may get stuck in a disaster. Your family most likely will be worried especially if you do not let them know you are ok or are unable to. Also, tie up all loose ends before leaving by finding child care, pet care, or adult care if needed.
Have a go-ready bag
When you leave for your facility during a crisis situation or natural disaster, make sure to pack a bag with all the necessary items you may need for at least a few days. Bring toiletries, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and feminine hygiene products if needed. Most facilities will have a shower you can use to freshen up when you can. If you take medication, remember to take them with you, so you don’t miss any necessary dosages. Pack enough clothing and underwear for a few days. Not all facilities have an on-site laundry area to wash your clothes.
Prepare and bring your own food
Facilities that provide patient care will likely have some sort of cafeteria or kitchen. However, you will be at the mercy of whatever they are serving. If you have special food restrictions or allergies, it may be best to prep your own food. In severe emergencies, food suppliers may be unable to make drop-offs, leaving food in short supply. If you can, prepare and bring your own food to ensure your nutritional needs are met.
Know your role
When you work a shift during a disaster, it is critical to know what part you are playing. There are different roles to partake in during a crisis, and they need to run efficiently to make sure everyone is safe. You may be in charge of specific patients, triaging patients, playing a support role for your team, or many other tasks. Knowing where you are supposed to be and when can help reduce your stress and everyone else’s.
Accept you will likely be short-staffed
Units are notoriously short-staffed even on a regular day. During a crisis, your facility may be even more short-staffed than usual for a number of reasons. Other nurses may not have taken the chance on coming in and decided to hunker down at home with family or did not have a safe way to the hospital. Facilities should try to reach out to a disaster nursing team to help, but there may not be extra help available. Help others by working together as a team to make the day easier.
Stay strong and show good leadership skills
Working in a crisis situation is not for the faint of heart. Many people may be stressed, and tensions will likely be high. It is important not to add fuel to the fire by being emotional during an emergency. Focus on effective communication and be adaptive to any situation that may come your way.
When working during a natural disaster, it can be easy to develop burnout as a nurse. Burnout can lead to poor patient care and making mistakes which can make a crisis situation worse. To prevent burnout, try to take breaks as often as possible. If someone offers you a break or even time to sleep, do not turn them down, another time may not come. When you do have downtime, focus on your own self-care.
Don’t forget about self-care
In a disaster situation, it is just as important to focus on your own self-care as it is on your patient care. It may be hard to find downtime, but when you do, focus on those self-care activities. Eat healthy, find quiet time, exercise when safe, and have good sleep hygiene.
Being prepared for a natural disaster is crucial for nurses. By following the tips outlined in this blog post, nurses can be better prepared to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster. Nurses play an important role in helping people during and after a natural disaster, and being prepared ahead of time can make all the difference.