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Disaster Relief Nursing 101

Disaster Relief Nursing 101

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

“We worked until sundown usually, because we didn’t have lights (the city became dark). We had a ‘de-briefing’ meeting around 9 p.m. and usually ate dinner at 10 p.m.” And what was on the menu? “Our dinner usually consisted of pizza. That was the local restaurant that was open and we trusted," she said. "It was quite delicious!”

Volunteer Through an Organization

While Patty went abroad to help people who had undergone a tremendous disaster, others prefer to stay close to home, where their help is also needed. For nurses who want the challenge of disaster relief within the U.S., the American Red Cross is the perfect venue to volunteer your services.

This kind of volunteer disaster relief involves working in the community to help support victims of home fires and other emergencies. But many also aid with larger emergencies, such as floods, explosions, and earthquakes. The organization responds to over 67,000 disasters in the U.S. each year. According to Sharon Stanley, Ph.D., RN, RS, Chief Nurse and Director of Disaster Health and Mental Health Services of the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., 87%of the more than 5,500 registered ARC volunteers are nurses and 88% of the nurses are RNs.

So, how does a nurse become an ARC volunteer?

It is highly recommended to get experience as a volunteer with the ARC prior to any disaster. This allows nurses to make relationships in the community and among each other. By knowing the people and organizations around you, and by getting some disaster training ahead of time, you’re ready to hit the ground running when your services are needed.

There are four levels of disaster nursing at the ARC. When you first volunteer, you are trained at the level of service associate, and – if you want – training continues as you move up to supervisor, manager, and finally, chief.

While it is possible to volunteer during an actual crisis, if nurses don’t have prior relationships, “[You] are stressing an already stressed system,” said Dr. Stanley. “We’ll take you and we’ll welcome you, and we’ll give you just-in-time training. But it is so, so important for the infrastructure of your community that you have made those relationships and volunteered prior to the disaster.”

Next: What the Red Cross Looks For >>

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