In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake on Jan. 12, many nurses felt the urgent need to jump on a plane and hit the ground in Haiti to help treat and comfort the survivors, but were not sure how to go about it.
ANA, in assisting international and U.S. health relief organizations, put out a call for nurse volunteers. Within days, ANA was inundated with hundreds of responses. Within weeks, it was thousands. Many potential volunteers expressed a desire, almost a plea, to do anything they could to help.
While this inspiring outpouring of compassion speaks to the willingness of nurses to help, ANA continues its longstanding practice of stressing that the best time to become a volunteer responder is before a disaster strikes. The phenomenon of “spontaneous volunteerism,” while noble in intent, can be disruptive and potentially dangerous, rather than helpful. Disaster zones are chaotic by nature, and unstable infrastructure and decreased security can endanger the health and safety of responders.
ANA advocates that the best thing nurses can do is to register with a government’s or non-governmental organization’s (NGO) disaster volunteer registry. These registries are part of the larger response system, and enables responders to know exactly which volunteers to deploy based on the needs of the situation. Volunteers that are part of a registry have specialized training for their roles in disaster medical care, and understand the specialized incident command structure that <a
href=”http://www.hhs.gov/aspr/opeo/ndms”target=”_blank”>disaster response agencies employ. Importantly, volunteers as part of a deployed registry are many times ensured a minimum level of security during their mission, and have access to legal protections and workers compensation.
Nurses should decide which level of participation they would prefer when choosing a registry. For example, nurses who see themselves grabbing a bag and jumping into the disaster zone within 48 hours may want to consider volunteering with a disaster medical assistance team. Nurses who prefer to perform more basic nursing functions within a local emergency may want to volunteer with their local Medical Reserve Corps. If volunteers want to learn or employ specific disaster nursing skills, such as operating a shelter, they can check with the American Red Cross.
By volunteering as part of a registry now, nurses can be deployed to help in the next man-made or natural disaster, and can be an active part of helping communities respond and recovery from tragic events like the one in Haiti.
Katie Brewer is a senior policy analyst at ANA.