What Makes a Good Disaster Response Nurse?

What Makes a Good Disaster Response Nurse?

Disaster response nurses are often on the frontline in emergency and disaster situations, whether they be earthquakes or mass shootings. Community members rely on disaster response nurses for various tasks, including helping them prepare for disasters, managing the situation on the ground, triaging and making quick decisions when resources are limited, and caring for victims and survivors. 

In this blog post, we’ll share our top tips for new disaster response nurses and what makes a good disaster response nurse. 

Characteristics of Disaster Response Nurses

Given the pressure in disaster and emergency situations, disaster response nursing requires advanced standards of characteristics associated with general nursing. Top qualities and characteristics include the following:

  • Time management and prioritization. Nurses must be able to manage time effectively and know how to prioritize tasks given time constraints. In emergency situations, time is of the essence, and this is especially important as you may encounter highly stressful situations and multiple competing priorities. 
  • Resilience. By virtue of the nature of disaster response, good nurses in this field can quickly adapt to and handle high-stress situations outside of their regular working spaces. Resilience in this regard means being a team player. In emergency situations, it’s often “all hands on deck.”
  • Problem-solving. Disaster response nursing involves quick decision-making from nurses with limited supervision and resources. You’ll be expected to think on your feet and make the best of difficult—and sometimes overwhelming—situations. 
  • Strong communication. Disaster response nurses communicate with patients, doctors, family members, medical colleagues, volunteer crews, and more. It is crucial to communicate effectively and convey information accurately to avoid medical errors and misinformation, especially in an emergency.
  • Empathy. Victims of disasters are usually vulnerable and under a great deal of stress, pain, or trauma. Empathizing with victims and survivors of disasters enables nurses to serve these individuals better. 


Practical Tips for New Disaster Response Nurses

Depending on the employer and the specific situation, disaster response nurses are sometimes expected to deploy on short notice, which may mean traveling to another city or country to support during emergencies. The following practical tips will help you if you’re wondering what disaster nursing is like and are particularly useful for new disaster response nurses. 

  • Ensure you have the necessary skills and qualifications, which include the following:
  • Nursing degree
  • Nursing license after taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Specialty disaster management certifications such as the National Healthcare Disaster Certification (NHDP-BC™). The American Nurses Credentialing Center retired this certification on December 31, 2022, so check with your employer if this certification is necessary or what certification could replace it. 
  • Keep your license and travel documents up to date and ready for emergency travel. 
  • This may include IDs such as your passport and driver’s license, professional licenses, visas, and travel vaccination cards, such as the yellow fever vaccine certificate.
  • For good measure, carry extra copies of each, and set a biannual reminder to check on the validity and status of these documents.
  • Have an emergency survival kit on standby, which may include the following:
  • Depending on where you travel, an expandable backpack rather than a suitcase may be more suitable. You may also want to equip yourself with basic nursing gear, a sleeping bag and bedding, toiletries and insect repellant, a seven-day supply of medication/prescriptions, a first aid kit, sanitizer, wet wipes in case of water scarcity, and non-perishable food like nutrition bars and water. 
  • For your home, the Red Cross suggests having a two-week water supply (one gallon per person per day), non-perishable food, a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a first aid kit, a seven-day medical supply, personal hygiene items, copies of personal documents, written emergency contact information, and cash. 
  • Update your immunizations and undergo regular physical exams to ensure you are healthy. 
  • Set reminders in your calendar for an annual health and immunity checkup
  • If you’re traveling, research prevalent diseases, recommended immunizations, and precautions. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a great resource. 


Mental Tips for Disaster Response Nurses 

To prepare yourself for disaster response nursing, read books such as “Preparing Nurses for Disaster Management.” You can also turn to social media to get a behind-the-scenes look at disaster nursing and learn more about certain aspects of the role, such as how disaster nurses can triage for mass casualties. You should also have conversations with your supervisor to understand the tentative plan regarding task allocation to allow you to prepare accordingly.

It’s essential to be mindful of your mental health and prepare for mentally strenuous times. You can learn responder self-care techniques such as taking breaks, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, practicing breathing exercises, and having a buddy system. There are several other destress tips for nurses which you should be familiar with. 

Finally, be flexible and adaptable by preparing for travel disruptions, language barriers, cultural differences, supply shortages, and other factors. This flexibility will support you in handling inevitably difficult situations. 


Final Thoughts on What Makes a Good Disaster Response Nurse

As a disaster response nurse, it’s important to have a family emergency response plan to ensure your family will be okay in your absence. You should also consider having a financial plan, as some disaster nursing work is unpaid (such as volunteering abroad during disasters), and time away may disrupt your income. Lastly, explain your work dynamics to your loved ones so you can manage their expectations during emergencies. 

If you’re looking for a primer on disaster response nursing, check out Nursa’s comprehensive guide on disaster response nursing here, which includes information on how to become a disaster response nurse, disaster response nurse certification, why you should choose to become a disaster response nurse, disaster nurse salary information, and more.

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