Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness The Role of Public Health Nurses

Massive health disasters are increasingly common. As climate change accelerates, so too will the rate at which people die or are injured because of climate-related natural disasters. In 2018, natural disasters claimed more than 10,000 lives worldwide. Infections and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, food and waterborne illnesses, and the flu can also trigger widespread public health catastrophes. Illnesses are increasingly intersecting with natural disasters to produce serious emergencies. Natural disasters displace people, cause crowded conditions, and increase the risk of poor sanitation, allowing disease to more rapidly spread. Public health nurses play a critical role in educating the public and providing support to those recovering from various disasters. 


Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness: The Threats Your Community Faces 

Public health nurses are highly involved in emergency preparedness and recovery. There are myriad jobs you can take on, so consider assessing your own skillset, evaluating the threats most likely to affect your community, and then adopting strategies to prepare for the worst. Some contributions to consider include: 

  • Researching local threats and strategies for preventing them. 
  • Educating public officials about public health threats and lobbying for relevant legislative change. For instance, you might lobby for free flu shots or the appointment of a local disaster management planner. 
  • Brushing up on your own disaster management and preparedness training. Consider continuing education courses, seminars, and drills to ensure you’re ready.

Educating the Public 

Every region faces a unique cocktail of risks. Large cities on fault lines must prepare for earthquakes, while populous areas must be prepared to manage rapidly spreading diseases and terrorist attacks. You must also consider the possibility of crime-related health disasters such as mass shootings. In most areas, there are multiple intersecting risks. For example, much of California faces mounting wildfire risks, along with the ever-looming specter of earthquakes. When these disasters strike, crowded communities—especially impoverished ones—are more vulnerable to spreading diseases. 


Educating the public is a key job for public health nurses. Some steps you can take include: 

  • Planning seminars on specific public health threats. 
  • Working with your community to implement a disaster plan that supports the most vulnerable community members. For example, you might establish warming or cooling centers to help people manage extreme temperatures. 
  • Discussing emergency planning with individual patients. 
  • Ensuring the agency or hospital you work for is prepared for common disasters
  • Assembling a disaster management toolkit to ensure you can protect your family and effectively respond to patients in the event of an emergency. First responders should include key tools in their tactical trauma kit. You cannot effectively tend to others if you or your family suffers a serious injury, so ensure you have basic supplies—medications, food, and water—in your family emergency kit. 
  • Coordinating with other agencies to create a workable interagency disaster preparedness plan. 
  • Developing a triage system for disasters, especially large-scale catastrophes that may stretch resources or undermine the standard of care. 
  • Emotionally preparing for the challenges of disaster management. Frequent drills, open discussions, and self-soothing strategies such as mindfulness and meditation are key here. Your mental health matters because your ability to stay calm is a key predictor of your ability to deliver effective care. 


Preparing for the Worst 

Sooner or later, a disaster will strike your area. Even small disasters have the power to cripple resources, because you'll be dealing with an influx of sick and panicked patients on top of your usual patient load. The time to prepare is now. Public health nurses are a national resource and the first line of defense in the event of a major disaster. 


Respiratory emergencies are among the most common emergencies nurses, doctors, and first responders face. The right equipment can be life-saving, allowing healthcare professionals to promptly and effectively treat more people. The right portable suction machine delivers consistent suction, allowing you to clear the airways of emergency patients no matter where you encounter them. For help selecting the right device for your emergency kit, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device