Parts of this article were duplicated with permission from: University of Southern California
The time to register is NOW! Roles and Resources to help you prepare and be ready to respond quickly in the wake of disaster.
Volunteering in the wake of national disaster is something that often eludes the response of “how can I help” from travel nurses. After the 2018 hurricanes of Florence and Michael, our travel nurse network was alive with posts of travel nurses seeking a way to volunteer. Unfortunately, after the disaster isn’t the time to try to get your feet wet in disaster response. Attempting to register last-minute for disaster response puts already strained resources to the test. With that being said the time to register is NOW!
When is Hurricane Season?
The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season will officially begin on June 1, 2019, and end on November 30, 2019. These dates historically describe the period each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. However, hurricanes are possible at any time of the year.
Preparedness for Disaster Nurses
Preparedness is an important part of disaster response, particularly with so many people working in different capacities in a crisis setting. In the wake of a natural disaster, a variety of responders volunteer to provide physical and emotional relief to the affected population. In 2018, the American Red Cross activated more than 14,000 workers (90 percent volunteers) to respond to major disasters.
However, for those who haven’t served in a disaster response capacity, it can be overwhelming to figure out:
- which organizations to connect with
- what capacity to serve in
- how to prepare to enter disaster sites
Before we go into how to prepare, let’s discuss the roles that disaster nurses serve.
What Roles Do Disaster Nurses Serve
FEMA’s National Preparedness Goal which defines what it means for communities to plan for all types of disasters and emergencies, describes response actions as whatever is “necessary to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred.” Its National Response Framework for disasters (PDF, 977 KB) breaks down a community’s needs and the assignments required by responders, whether or not they are volunteers.
Health and Recovery Roles in Disaster Nursing
Public health, health care & emergency medical services:
These professionals provide medical care to affected community members and responders, assess potential for any resulting illnesses among the survivors and offer mental health counseling.
These experts facilitate recovery activities and address the affected population’s needs regarding information that involves decision-making and life-saving activities. Assessments can take the following forms:
- Rapid assessment: Undertaken immediately after a disaster, rapid assessment provides information on needs, possible courses of action and resource requirements. It normally takes up to a week.
- Detailed assessment: A more detailed assessment is carried out after a rapid assessment, if the situation is changing and more information is needed. It takes about one month, depending on the size of the area and the complexity of the situation.
- Continual assessment: Disaster situations can evolve rapidly and include unexpected knock-on effects, such as population movements. Assessment should therefore be an ongoing process throughout the emergency phase. Once the Red Cross Red Crescent is operational in a disaster zone, information is continually updated so that relief and programming can be adapted to evolving needs.
Mass care services:
These volunteer-heavy teams distribute emergency supplies and provide food, water, shelter, temporary housing, evacuee support and reunification. Mass Care can include the following:
- Distribution of Emergency Supplies
- Reunification Services
- Emergency Assistance
- Voluntary Agency Coordination
- Volunteer and Donation Management
- Essential Community Relief Services
- Mass Evacuee Support
- Support for Access and Functional Needs
- Household Pets and Service Animals
Fatality management services:
Fatality management is the ability to coordinate with other organizations (e.g., law enforcement, healthcare, emergency management, and medical examiner/coroner) to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains and personal effects; certify cause of death; and facilitate access to mental/behavioral health services to the family members, responders, and survivors of an incident.
These functions include:
- Determine role for public health in fatality management
- Activate public health fatality management operations
- Assist in the collection and dissemination of antemortem data
- Participate in survivor mental/behavioral health services
Where to Look for Volunteer Opportunities
Multiple groups recruit people to help after a disaster. In addition, community organizations and churches often organize their own donation efforts for victims. Be prepared to respond. Connect with these agencies and register now for disaster nursing.
Volunteer groups for natural disaster response include the following:
- All Hands and Hearts Smart Response
- American Red Cross
- Brethren Disaster Ministries
- FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
- Habitat for Humanity
- Hope Worldwide
- Medical Reserve Corps
- Samaritan’s Purse
- SBP (originally called St. Bernard Project)
- Team Rubicon
- The Salvation Army
Most importantly, you should note that if you are interested in disaster nursing, there is generally a lot of red-tape to go through. In addition to specific disaster response training, most organizations have other requirements such as vaccinations, and background checks. Early planning provides you the time necessary to get through all the red-tape.
- Disaster Volunteer Registry: By State
- The Importance of Travel Nurses During a Natural Disaster
- A Travel Nurse’s Unique Story of Surviving Hurricane Irma in the US Virgin Islands
- Nurses Getting the Lights Back On
To conclude, it’s imperative that you register NOW and not wait for a disaster to happen. Disaster nursing has many roles and making plans now will help you be of the greatest assistance in the time of disaster.
If you aren’t able to volunteer your time but would like to help in some way, here are some links to donate to the efforts.
The Red Cross sends in volunteers, provide shelter, food, water, medication and essentials to those affected and the volunteers.
Global Giving has set up a fund to help with relief efforts in the Bahamas.
Finished the travel nursing guide and are ready to look for an assignment?