Preparedness matters. Rene Dubos wrote, "Human destiny is bound to remain a gamble, because at some unpredictable time and in some unforeseeable manner, nature will strike back."
We see his dire prediction proved true daily with news of natural disasters and emerging infectious diseases. Little can be done to prevent these disasters. Our best hope is to decrease their impact by being prepared.
An important conclusion reached by the 9/11 Commission was that survival depends on individual and community preparedness. Not even the federal government will be able to bring relief to victims as quickly or effectively as community resources. The Weber State School of Nursing is working hard to make sure nurses are prepared to provide aid quickly, decisively and effectively.
Being ready can sometimes feel like a burden. First of all, no one likes to think about what could happen. An earthquake? A terrorist attack? A bad winter storm? Because no one wants to think about it, there is often little enthusiasm for disaster drills. They are often met with apathy and sometimes outright hostility, but disaster drills matter. Research shows that human beings who are unprepared tend to experience paralysis in the face of disaster. This is not helpful in an emergency. Disaster drills are designed to help overcome that paralysis and increase the chance of survival.
I pay particular attention to disaster preparedness as nurses are often on the front lines in these situations. Shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, we in the WSU School of Nursing asked ourselves how prepared were nurses in our community. We didn't like the answer.
Nurses are a key element of any community disaster response. But nurses do not get enough education about disaster response. An uninformed nursing population may not report to work in the event of a mass casualty, especially an infectious disease outbreak. They could fear infecting themselves or their families.
In 2006, WSU began a course to teach registered nurses how to respond -- Nursing 4070: Threats and Crises. The course, one of the first of its kind in the nation, includes information on caring for patients who have experienced biologic, radiologic, explosive, chemical and other hazards. Once prepared, the nurses feel they are well armed with information that will keep themselves and their families safe, while allowing them to provide adequate assistance to victims. They are less fearful and more confident.
Following a disaster, neighborhoods may be cut off from Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for days, but it is likely that there will be a nurse in the neighborhood. A nurse may be the only healthcare provider available. The nurse will have to contend with injured victims, chronically ill people and vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, mentally ill and children. Having a nurse with adequate training at the ready will improve the chances of everyone's survival.
The question now is how to provide the education. Currently, our WSU course is an elective and, although popular, is still unable to reach all nursing students. To date, we have educated close to 500 nurses, most of whom live in Northern Utah.
These nurses know how to triage in disasters, respond appropriately to a variety of mass casualty events and can even put out a fire if necessary.
We have relied on the community to enhance the education. With the help of individuals such as the Emergency Response Director for Weber County, Lance Peterson, and Ogden City Fire Department Battalion Chief Corey Barton, we have provided an outstanding broad education to our students.
Even under the best of circumstances, federal resources will take hours and maybe days. It is your neighbors, local EMS responders, fire fighters and health care providers, including nurses, who will respond to the disaster. We owe it to our community to adequately prepare our nurses. The Weber State University School of Nursing has started these preparations. It could make the difference for all of us.
Dr. Gooder is an associate professor, School of Nursing, at Weber State University. The Standard-Examiner plans to publish other commentaries on this subject over the next year.