Catastrophes such as the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and natural disasters like the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, call upon "first responders" who rush in and use their skills to help the wounded and suffering.
We live in a world where disasters of epic proportions can -- and do -- occur. Individuals around the world are confronted with earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, floods, and forest fires in addition to human-caused catastrophes and war. In all of these situations, emergency healthcare professionals are needed.
The history of modern nursing goes back to Florence Nightingale, one of the first "first responders" as a field nurse in the Crimean War. Today, after a catastrophe, disaster nurses work tirelessly in filthy "trenches" without supplies, much like the battlefields where disaster nursing started.
In today's world, filthy conditions and an absence of adequate medical supplies continue to be a real threat to disaster victims. Disaster nurses take care of these victims, even in the face of imminent demise. Often, they may not be able to do more than comfort someone as they slip away into the great beyond. For this reason, disaster nursing is not for the weak-willed or the timid; it takes a brave, caring, courageous individual to be a disaster nurse.
Some nursing schools and programs offer courses in disaster nursing, which teach nurses how to manage resources and systems to meet the needs of victims affected by a chemical, biological or radiological disasters. In such classes, regardless of where they are taught, the message is the same: take care of the "walking wounded" before anyone else. These are the folks that, when bandaged, will be able to assist a nurse in some instances.
Another important part of disaster nursing is management -- of other nurses, employees, systems and resources.
Disaster nursing management involves assessing risk factors and using different plans and strategies to minimize risk to nurses. It also involves disaster training to ensure that nurses and the public are adequately prepared, and networking with local disaster relief agencies to help facilitate this process.
When a disaster occurs, disaster management personnel are the ones in charge of helping stricken communities organize to ensure a speedy recovery , and making sure agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross are present.
Disaster management professionals often work as consultants for hospitals, police and fire departments, local health departments, and even for relief organizations like the Red Cross. Their services and expertise are needed to help maintain control of situations that can easily spiral out of control. In many cases, companies that specialize in industrial machinery and dangerous chemicals have disaster management personnel as part of their full-time staff. In this corporate role, disaster nurses usually create safety programs used to educate and prepare employees for emergencies.
When it comes right down to it, no one can ever be fully prepared for a disaster. By their very nature, disasters are complex scenarios full of odd variables that often change in the blink of an eye. But disaster nurses, who combine effective leadership and organization skills with medical expertise, are as prepared as possible.
Most regular nursing programs include courses in disaster nursing and management, while some schools offer programs specifically in EMT (Emergency Management) and disaster managment.