Running Toward Danger


Lately, it seems that there is so much tragedy and devastation.  I listen to the news and hear stories of nurses, doctors, and EMS running into danger to save lives.  We as a nation have endured so much death and destruction over the course of the past few months. I can see the anxiety and sadness in the faces of the people I am in contact with each day.   The best of humanity has been highlighted in the stories of selflessness and bravery even though we have suffered as a nation.

What we do.

Most nurses are in a unique position to participate in disaster response. including triage, stabilization, definitive care, and evacuation.  We generally choose nursing because we want to offer care and comfort to the people we serve.  Rushing in to help in a disaster is what we do.  So what is a disaster?

A disaster is a catastrophic event.  An event that causes great destruction and loss. In general great loss of life and property is the result of a catastrophic disaster.  We can see extensive damage to infrastructure, power, communication, and roadways which make it difficult at best to respond.

As we have seen in recent days and weeks the cause of these disasters can be natural or man made. No matter the cause these events are overwhelming to first responders, medical systems and governmental systems.

When is it a disaster?

A disaster is declared when an areas systems and services are overwhelmed and a saturation point is reached.   Needs assessments begin to determine the resources needed for assistance. Over the years we have gotten better at predetermining the needs and planning our response.

Historically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is designed to coordinate efforts during a disaster.   The call for help from medical professionals may come from agencies such as Red Cross, charities or private hospitals.  Healthcare professionals should contact agencies to find out the need and how you can help.

Before you travel to an area to volunteer as medical staff make sure you are aligned with an agency.  You need to make sure you meet licensing requirements of the area.  Housing could be an issue as well.  Prior planning can save you frustration in your efforts to lend a hand.nurse-in-disaster

Human caused disaster

What if you are involved in a disaster attributed to a human?  It seems more disasters are occuring at the hands of humans. A disaster from a forest fire started by a person whether accidentally or intentionally has taken lives and property.  People have died attending community events whether the movies, church or school.  We weere shocked at 9/11 an act of terrorism where thousands died.  Now the unbelievable act of hundreds of people being shot by a person for an unknown reason.

What do each and every one of these disasters have in common?  They have brought out the very best in our humanity.  We have heard the stories where medical professionals and first responders have rushed into danger to do what they could to save others.  These stories are no surprise to those of us who commit to preserve life at all cost.

What is our role?

A nurse could be involved in several roles during a disaster. Nurses may function as a triage practitioner. This role requires that assessment and prioritization to quickly ensure resources are used appropriately. You may have to perform under chaotic and stressful circumstances to make quick decisions.

A nurses role may be defined by the specific disaster and care needed in a situation.  There may be times when functioning outside the usual scope of practice is required.  Government agencies may waive the requirement for licensing depending on the need of the situation.

Disasters in the future

Each disaster has it’s unique challenge. The role of nurses in disaster medicine will continue to grow. Readiness agencies will continue to design training programs for all emergency responders.  Requirements for extended training will be initiated. Through the collaboration of all governmental agencies to include all members of the healthcare team, minimizing traumatic injury and death related to disasters can become a reality. All nurses are an increasingly important part of disaster response.  By furthering your training in emergency response you can meet the challenge of operating outside your scope of practice in a disaster. Critical care certification, emergency room nursing experience and specializing in other critical areas will give you confidence to rush into danger in a disaster.


Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a retired RN and US Army Nurse Major. She has over 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and once to South Korea. Her medical training began during the Vietnam era when trained as an army medic. She went on to train as an OR tech and then as a LVN/LPN. She completed nursing school and was direct commissioned into the reserve Army Nurse Corp. nurse. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and working in other medical facilities. During her career she spent years as an OR nurse, Occupational Health Nurse, Hospice Nurse, Forensic Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as being a Nurse Entrepreneur.

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