What seemed to be a normal Tuesday morning turned out to be anything but. An unthinkable act of terrorism took the lives of thousands of innocent people and many of the brave first responders who selflessly tried to help them. The flames, the smoke, the chaos, the sadness—all came to us through our TV screens. Our nation felt as shattered as the wreckage we saw in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
But what we heard about next speaks to the nature of the human spirit. We heard of ordinary citizens packing blood banks, donation centers, and volunteer hotlines. And we heard of nurses and other healthcare providers rushing to the scenes to offer their services. Everyone seemed desperate to do anything they could to alleviate suffering; they just felt they had to do something.
So many things changed that day, but the spirit of compassion of nurses and all Americans remains true. We saw the willingness to drop everything and help again in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and the tornadoes in 2011. ANA was flooded with requests from nurses who wanted to volunteer. It was a testament to nurses’ capacity for caring—the hallmark of our profession.
This month, as we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, is an opportunity to consider how we as nurses prepare for disasters. Were you one of those nurses anxious to respond? How have you, your employer, or your community taken a more proactive approach to being prepared for an emergency?
The time to volunteer is not during the disaster but before it strikes. Despite the appearance of chaos, disaster response is highly coordinated, and volunteer responders need to be part of a response agency that has been officially activated to take part. By becoming part of a volunteer agency before the disaster, nurses get the credentialing and training they need for providing care in a dangerous and austere environment.
If you think you would want to be a disaster
volunteer, you should select the type of response agency that fits your desired level of response. Do you want to be dropped right into the disaster zone in the first 24 hours? Then a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team is a good choice. Do you want to provide shelter management? Consider volunteering with the American Red Cross. Do you see yourself being part of a support system for the health needs of your community if it is affected by an emergency? Sign up with your local Medical Reserve Corps.
Even if you don’t want to volunteer to be an actual responder, there are steps every nurse can take to become prepared for a disaster. Nurses need to be professionally prepared. Know your employer’s disaster response plan and take part in preparedness activities. Know your role in the plan, because as a nurse, there may be expectations of you to provide care in a different setting or situation than what you’re used to. And, as is recommended for all individuals and families, have a personal preparedness plan. Create an emergency supply kit for your family, pets, and dependents. Develop a communications plan for your family, especially if, as a nurse, you will be needed to help in the response. And be sure to stay up to date on all your immunizations, especially seasonal influenza. Immunizations not only keep you safe; a fully vaccinated community can help prevent outbreaks of dangerous illnesses.
As our nation remembers those tragic events of 9/11, let us also not forget the sense of patriotism, heroism, and compassion that held our spirits afloat through those terrible weeks and months. Keep that spirit alive by doing your part to prepare and respond to any disaster, no matter how large or small.
For more information on disaster preparedness, check out "Issues up close".
Karen Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
President, American Nurses Association