Disaster Nursing- The Disparities in Relief Efforts

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Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on September 1, 2017 creating disaster and calling for recovery for its residents. 

Nursing and other Health and Human service workers answered the call. 


The Role of Nursing in Disaster Relief Efforts

Nursing and Health and human service workers are integral in disaster relief and rebuilding efforts. We are charged to serve communities comprised of elderly, homeless, immigrants, those with criminal records and addictions in an unbiased fashion, promoting health equality to all those involved (BLS, 2011).

Healthcare and Human service workers are defined as jobs and services who cater to individual needs of a community, helping people become more self-sufficient by recommending resources or learning a new skill that allows them to overcome setbacks (BLS, 011).  

Skills Set. In disaster relief, nurses and other health and human service workers have a unique responsibility of not only assessing and addressing medical needs by critical thinking, but incorporating skills such as advocacy, emotional support, case management, knowledge of resources and analytical skills for proper planning problem solving of immediate disaster relief issues within hospital or local support organizations.

When working with communities on an individual level, incorporating interpersonal skills such as empathy, listening, compassion, communication, leadership and support are necessary to de-escalate emotional and high tension emergency situations.

Community Nursing. Disaster Relief falls under community nursing, which may differ from hospital or acute care settings greatly. Although deployed nurses may expect to be utilized clinically, they may sometimes find themselves taking out trash, sweeping a floor, distributing clothing or leading support groups (Carlson, Disaster Relief Nursing). 

Inpatient disaster nursing roles may include traveling to disaster areas, staying on site at hospitals located in recovery areas with limited transportation and food, working 12-16 hour days for 5 or more days at a time. This can be challenging, especially during critical times of disaster when needs are high and help is short, but involvement can lead to great satisfaction of seeing lives improved (BLS, 2011).

 “Disaster is indiscriminate, but the relief efforts may not be,” says Davis et al (2010), during disasters, communities are disrupted, leaving a fragmented primary and mental health structure. Disasters pose greater threats to communities lacking resources and access to healthcare, and areas of healthcare disparities are often overlooked in disaster response and recovery planning (Davis et al., 2010).

Poor and medically underserved areas may bear an inequitable amount of burden after disasters hit (Davis et al., 2010), while low-income families are at a greater risk than ever before due to their poor housing quality, environmental conditions, and economic instability (Ross, 2013). Disaster Relief Efforts can incorporate nursing to advocate and act as a liaison to aid victims of disasters to returning to their baseline of living in the delicate and caring way that it is needed.

Get involved #HelpingHouston Campaign. Nursing is only one small part of a crucial and efficient disaster relief team. All professions are needed to assist with a recovering community. This weekend we participated in a campaign called #HelpingHouston comprised of Dallas entrepreneurs, business owners, lawyers, chaplains, mortgage advisors and other community leaders and volunteers who all gave a helping hand to one underrepresented community in Houston’s Third Ward, after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.

The Focus of Disaster Relief

Food. Following a disaster, one of the immediate concerns of families is food security (Ross, 2013). #HelpingHouston volunteers established a base on the campus of Texas Southern University Law School where several truckloads had travelled over 3 hours from Dallas and unloaded on campus to pass out donated food, toiletries and clothing items to an estimated 2,000 community members.

Housing. Housing continues to be a significant issue for people of color and low-income disaster victims in the recovery period (Ross, 2013). The #HelpingHouston campaign offered assistance finding housing and transporting displaced victims with family and resources back to Dallas to aide in housing placement. A search and rescue team scoured the outskirts of the city, as families in both Beaumont and Tyler Texas are still awaiting relief.

Job Security. Another critical concern for families living in poverty or on the brink of poverty is potential job loss (Ross, 2013). Speaking with one woman who had been dealing with housing and job issues prior to the hurricane, she stated despite the effects of the hurricane on her home and life, she had to go right back to work to continue to “make ends meet,” having minimal time to recovery mentally.


After effects

Unfortunately, disaster effects communities differently. Access to food, healthcare, and basic needs may be compromised during post recovery times, even more so for underprivileged communities. The role of nursing during a relief effort is vast and can be both rewarding and overwhelming. Disaster Relief Nursing provides an opportunity to give your time freely to provide empathy, comfort and compassion to distressed individuals, while personally gaining a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction toward a cause.

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We commend the #HelpingHouston volunteers and leaders who pulled together Dallas resources to lend a hand to a neighboring city in recovery, defining what love and care for one another in America, in times of need is truly all about.








 Davis, J.R., Wilson, S., Brock-Martin, A., Glover, S., Svendsen, E.,( 2010 Mar). The Impact of Disasters on Populations With Health and Health Care Disparities. 4(1) page 30–38 retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2875675/

BLS (2011 Fall) Helping those in need: Human service workers. Occupational Outlook Quarterly (p.23-32) retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2011/fall/art03.pdf • Fall 2011

Ross, Tracey. (19 Aug 2013). The Three Factors That Put Lower-Income Americans At Greater Risk From Extreme Weather retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/the-three-factors-that-put-lower-income-americans-at-greater-risk-from-extreme-weather-d2ee2de74354/

Keith Carlson. Disaster Relief Nursing: A challenge not for the faint of heart retrieved from  http://www.workingnurse.com/articles/Disaster-Relief-Nursing