Letter to the Editor on Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Preparedness: Planning for Disaster Response

April 4, 2008

Response by Ronda Mintz-Binder to:  'Emergency Preparedness: Planning for Disaster Response' (September 30, 2006)

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the OJIN September, 2006 topic of Emergency Preparedness. I applaud the article by Weiner (2006) which presented a competency-based education program to teach nurses about emergency response. The primary focus of this article was the need for academic courses that teach response to wide spread disasters on a national and international level. Additionally, Gebbie and Qureshi (2006) presented core competencies needed for public health nurses to respond to catastrophes and described nurses' involvement in disaster response from a historical perspective. Concerns, such as personal obligations and transportation to the emergency, were cited as primary barriers that prevented health care workers from reporting to assist.

Those of us in universities and colleges have our own unique potential emergencies to be concerned about; more and more, we have enrolled students who are either suicidal, homicidal, or both, with the potential to act on these impulses at any time. With the most recent events that unfolded at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007, it is critical that school-wide crisis intervention models be activated to intervene immediately and offer support and assistance to those affected during and after the event (Everly & Mitchell, 1999).  This was not the first shooting at a university, but the first in the last few years. We have seen a shooting within a nursing school in the last 5 years. We have had suicides within nursing programs.

Common sense dictates that the more people directly affected by a traumatic and deadly event, the more people in need of support and assistance in the days or months following.  Often, the extent of the response may not be actualized until months, perhaps years later. Furthermore, students are not the only survivors who may be struggling with a student death. Faculty who knew the student before the death occurred, who taught the student, who talked with the student shortly before will have reactions as well (Mintz-Binder, 2007). And yet, this is rarely discussed, admitted, or supported. In fact, the eerie, silent response from colleagues to Mintz-Binder's recently published article is almost as striking as the events themselves.  Have we become such a complacent society that we now accept horrific trauma without outrage, expressed concern, or demands for better prevention? Have we lost compassion in that we expect ourselves and each other to magnanimously cope without need for intervention, or at the very least, to talk and write about it?

Yes, it is easy to offer thoughts and solutions post-crisis from the sidelines. That is not the intent of this commentary. Rather, the intent is to begin a dialogue and discuss these issues amongst ourselves. Nurses are on the frontline in hospitals, clinics, schools of nursing, and in the community. We are looked upon in moments of crisis because we are trained to quickly handle emergencies. And those who chose to act, act quickly, efficiently, and brilliantly. But let's not forget that the responders may have a personal or emotional reaction at some point in the near future; and they deserve the right to have their reaction, as well as to have us facilitate their healing. In our zeal to create disaster planning models, let's not forget to include the healing process of those who survive and are designated '˜the heroe's.' Let's not forget what makes us uniquely human, namely, compassion, support, and caring. 

Ronda Mintz-Binder, DNP, RN
Assistant Professor
University of Texas Arlington
Arlington, TX


Everly, G.S., & Mitchell, J. (1999). Critical incident stress management (CISM): A new era and standard of care in crisis intervention. Ellicott City, MD: Chevron Publishers.

Gebbie, K., & Qureshi, K. (2006). A historical challenge: Nurses and emergencies. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 11(3,1). Available: www.nursingworld.org/ojin/topic31/tpc31_1.htm>

Mintz-Binder, R.D. (2007). Assisting nursing faculty through the crisis and resolution of student suicide. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 21(1), 25-31.

Weiner, E. (2006). Preparing nurses internationally for emergency planning and response. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 11(3,3). Available: www.nursingworld.org/ojin/topic31/tpc31_3.html