The role of the critical care nurse during these kinds of situations can cover a wide area of responsibility: medical history and physical assessment, psychosocial assessment and referral to mental health services. In addition to giving medical treatment, disaster nurses also provides emotional support to families, children and the elderly, and assists with rumor control. They make quick decisions about who will get treatment first. They often must decide who will receive care when supplies are low or have run out. However, their first priority is always to treat the walking wounded. Then they are able to be of some assistance to the nurses and other medical staff as needed.
The historical background of disaster nursing is based in military nursing. Throughout most of history, nurses have been present in wartime, offering support and solstice to those bloodied in battle. During the Crimean War, Florence Nightengale assembled a staff of 38 volunteer nurses to care for wounded soldiers. They were receiving poor care due to the overburdened medical staff. Supplies were short and infection rampant. With the help of the nurses, mortality decreased, as did instances of infection. Many of the protocols that were implemented later became prominent health care models later on.
Because of events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and terrorist attacks, it is important for nursing personnel to be adequately prepared. Disaster nursing education is now provided at practically every level, whether it be offered as part of a LVN/PN course, or RN program. It may also be given in the format of continuing education courses for ongoing updating or refreshing, both traditional and online. Courses are comprised of, but not limited to: theory in basic preparedness for catastrophic events, how to evaluate and prioritize patient care, and moving and evacuation protocols. The courses also cover the details of caring for pregnant women and children, treating the victims of severe trauma, and all of the hazards of certain disasters that are biological or chemical in nature (FEMA's All-Hazards Approach).
Helping nurses become formally trained for disaster equips them with a universal code or method for them to adhere to, no matter the environment (hospital, clinic, war zone or nursing care facility). It also gives them much more confidence in their ability to lead and organize large groups of people in frantic situations and times. As part of the first-response front, by being more adequately readied, nurses are then better able to effectively assist and ease overwhelmed medical teams. So in essence, it can save many lives.
The issue of being culturally sensitive is becoming more essential, especially regarding health care. Nurses come in contact with many people of varying nationalities, traditions and ethnicities, all possessing their own understanding of sickness. It is for this reason that nurses, specifically those who are dealing with people experiencing a disastrous event, must be trained about the importance of sensitivity to those from cultures different from their own. This increases the likelihood of acceptance of medical treatment, helps the patient return to health quicker, and establishes rapport as well.
In response to disasters, natural and man-made, a specialty within the area of critical care nursing has emerged. Disaster nursing involves readiness and preparedness in responding to immediate community needs during and after a catastrophic event. Catastrophic events are extremely overwhelming to any community. It's not just the high mortality rate. Damage to roads, buildings and electrical services profoundly limit a region's capacity to respond. Paramedics and police, fire and hospital emergency departments become overburdened. Government organizations are quickly inundated with requests for aid and other immediate relief.