The 2017 hurricane season showed just how devastating natural disasters can be. Those of us who saw the devastation in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico won’t soon forget those images, and many of us were moved to donate to disaster relief efforts upon learning of the great need for help.

For some nurses, disaster relief involves more than donating money and keeping hurricane victims in their thoughts and prayers. A number of nurses — either through National Guard connections or by volunteering on their own — made the trek to hurricane-affected areas to help those most impacted by the disaster.

An article titled “Here’s How to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims” on noted that the American Red Cross was recruiting medical professionals and mental healthcare professionals who could commit to a nine-day deployment.

It also noted that at least one travel nursing agency was actively recruiting nurses to help in Texas into the next year, and that Texas state agencies were helping to expedite the process of qualifying nurses and getting them to areas of need.

The Austin American-Statesman covered the story of Austin Regional Clinic nurse Judith Chedville, who was sent to Houston by her National Guard unit — the first time in her 12 years in the Guard she’d been asked to serve. She said, “This truly is the opportunity that most of us who are in the National Guard want: To help people in our area.”

And, of course, there were remarkable stories of hometown nurses who carried out their nursing duties even during nearly untenable conditions. KHOU-TV in Houston told of a pair of Memorial Herrmann-Texas Medical Center nurses, Morgan McCullough and Casey Aslan, who used a kayak to navigate Houston’s flooded streets to join their hospital’s disaster response team.

Though their story is dramatic and remarkable, it does highlight an important consideration in disaster relief efforts — balancing the ethical obligation to help others, and even to put patients ahead of themselves, with keeping themselves out of harm’s way.

An American Nurses Association brief on the issue points out that sometimes, it’s not just a nurse’s personal ethics that determine whether a nurse must respond to a natural or manmade disaster. Some states have laws compelling nurses to respond, with punishments possible for those who don’t.

A number of states attempted to clarify the issue with the passage of the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act (UEVHPA). As the ANA brief noted, “the act establishes a system for rapid, streamlined deployment of licensed human service providers in areas of declared emergency. In addition, it provides legal safeguards for practitioners acting within their scope and in good faith, clarifies some interstate practice differences, and deems the legal scope of practice authority to the state requesting the practitioners to maximize their participation.”

The hurricanes of 2017 were the most recent reminders that disaster preparedness is a must, especially for the nurses playing a vital role on healthcare teams formed to meet those disasters head-on. Eastern Michigan University’s online RN to BSN program includes an elective course, Management

of Health Care Delivery: Disasters & Bioterrorism, that covers natural and manmade disasters, how they impact healthcare delivery, and how nurses and other healthcare professionals can meet the acute, unique challenges of those situations. As unusual as those situations are, they are times when well-educated nurses are needed most.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s RN to BSN Online.

Sources: Here’s How to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

Austin American-Statesman: Hurricane Harvey: National Guard Calling Up Local Nurses, Doctors

KHOU: Harvey Heroes: Nurses Kayak Through Flooded Streets to Work

American Nurses Association: Disaster Preparedness

American College of Surgeons: Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act