Disasters and Emergencies

Disasters and Emergencies


At the end of the class you will be able to:

  1. List several kinds of disasters and emergencies.
  2. Act in the correct way if a disaster happens in the home or in the workplace.


We live and work in a very complex world that is filled with possible disasters and emergencies. Some of these occur in our own homes, buildings and hospitals. For example, there may be a chemical spill, fire or loss of power in our own home or your workplace (hospital, office, nursing home). Others happen in the area near our homes, buildings and hospitals. For example, our area may be hit with a tornado, hurricane, flood or terror attack. We must be ready to act before a disaster occurs. We must have a plan in place and we must practice the plan so we are ready to act at all times. This course will teach you about some of the things you should do when you are faced with an internal or external disaster.


We should plan because planning will help us to:

  • be less afraid when something happens;
  • stay safe and keep others safe; and
  • keep our homes and personal things as safe as we can.

Disasters touch many, many people every year. Have a good plan that includes a disaster kit, a way to talk to loved ones, care for pets and a shelter that you can use if it is needed.


There are several types of disasters. They are:

  • natural - floods, hurricanes, lightning, land slides, earthquakes, volcanoes and wild fires
  • chemical - all chemicals, including those found in the house and hospital
  • acts of terror - chemical or germ attacks, bombs, explosions, nuclear activity


Listen to the news in your area and listen to those in the community. Always have a battery operated radio because you may not have electric when a disaster strikes.

Be ready to evacuate your workplace or home when you are told to. When you are told to leave the workplace or your home, do so right away. Do not wait. Take your emergency kit with you.

Always try to have a full tank of gas in your car, especially if a storm is expected. There may not be any gas after the storm or other disaster happens. Follow the signs that show you how to drive away from the problem to a safer place. Have a plan for someone else to come and get you if you do not drive.

Lock your doors and windows. Unplug all electrical things except the refrigerator and freezer unless a flood is expected. Turn off the main electric if a flood may happen.

It is very important to know what to do in your home, or your patient's home, and in your own workplace. Know the policies and procedures for your workplace and follow them.



Floods are very common in the United States. Some happen very quickly and others develop over a couple of days so people will get a warning about them. They occur most often in low areas near the water, areas near a dam and other areas where there are streams, rivers, oceans and bays.

Some flood terms are:

Flood Watch - flooding is possible. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or TV for information. Flash Flood Watch - flash flooding is possible. Be ready to go to higher ground. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or TV for information. Flood Warning - flooding will occur soon. Be ready to leave. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or TV for information. Flash Flood Warning - a flash flood is happening. GO to higher ground immediately.

If you leave the home:

  • lock the doors and windows
  • bring all outdoor furniture and other items into the house
  • move essential things to a higher floor of the home or place items as high as you can if the house or workplace if it has only one story
  • Turn off all utilities at the main switch

Do not walk or drive through water when you do not know how deep it is. Do not walk through rapidly moving water. It could knock you down and carry you away.


Tornadoes are very violent and dangerous. It looks like a quickly moving funnel shaped cloud. Its winds can be as strong as 300 miles per hour. Every state in our country is at some risk from them. Some can be seen in the distance, others pop up with no warning at all.

Some of the signs are:

  • a dark, green sky
  • hale
  • a sound like a roaring train
  • a dark, large, low rotating or funnel shape cloud

Tornado Warning - a tornado has been seen by radar. Go to shelter immediately.

Tornado Watch - a tornado is possible. Watch the sky and listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or TV for information.

If there is a tornado:

  • go to a shelter or safe room in the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building near into the center of room or a closet that has no windows, doors or outside walls. Do NOT open windows. Close them quickly if you can;
  • get out of your car and enter the lowest floor of a building if you are caught while driving;
  • lie flat on the ground, in a ditch or hole if possible, and cover your head with your hands if you are outdoors and there is no building near you;
  • protect yourself from flying debris.


Hurricanes can cause a lot of damage from winds, rain and floods. Winds can be more than 155 miles per hour and the storm surge and flooding can be more than 18 feet. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is a good example of the damage that a hurricane can do.

Hurricanes are grouped into these five categories:

  1. Winds 74 - 95 mph. Storm surge of 4 to 5 feet
  2. Winds 96 - 110 mph. Storm surge of 6 to 8 feet
  3. Winds 111 - 130 mph. Storm surge of 9 to 12 feet
  4. Winds 131 - 155 mph. Storm surge of 13 to 18 feet
  5. Winds more than 155 mph. Storm surge of more than 18 feet

Some hurricane terms are:

Tropical Depression - a storm with winds of 38 mph or less.

Tropical Storm - a storm with winds 39-73 mph

Hurricane - a storm with winds of 74 mph or more

Storm Surge - water pushed onto the land by the hurricane and its winds. Storm surges can reach 25 feet high and be 50-1000 miles wide.

Storm Tide - a combination of storm surge and the normal tide (i.e., a 15-foot storm surge combined with a 2-foot normal high tide over the average creates a 17-foot storm tide).

Hurricane Watch - a hurricane is possible in the area, usually within 36 hours. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or TV for information.

Hurricane Warning - a hurricane is expected in the area, usually within 24 hours.

The following things should be done to protect lives and property from a hurricane:

  • Storm shutters or 5/8" marine plywood over windows to prevent their breaking.
  • Extra roof straps and clips
  • Trimmed trees and shrubs around buildings
  • Go to a safe room in the home (small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level)
  • Evacuate if you are told to do so
  • Close all interior doors
  • Secure and brace external doors
  • Keep curtains and blinds closed
  • Listen to the radio or TV for information
  • Secure the building and bring outdoor things indoors
  • Have a water supply. Fill containers and the bathtub with water


About 300 people are hurt and 80 people are killed every year in the United States with lightning. Some of the other dangers of thunderstorms, in addition to lighting, are:

  • tornadoes,
  • strong winds,
  • hale, and
  • flash floods.

Lightning may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall so be aware of what is going on around you. Go indoors for safety if you hear thunder within 30 seconds after seeing lightning.

Here are some things you should do if there is a thunderstorm.

  • Get indoors
  • If you are outdoors, do NOT stand under or near a tall tree in an open area
  • Do NOT remain in a boat or at the beach
  • Tie down or bring outdoor items indoors
  • Secure and lock windows and doors
  • Do not take a bath or a shower (plumbing pipes can send lightning to you)
  • Do not use a corded telephone. Cordless and cell phones are safe to use.
  • Unplug all electrical items, like appliances, computers and air conditioners so that they do not get damaged from a surge of power

Lightning is about to strike when you feel your hair stand on end. If this happens, get low to the ground. Put your hands over your head and ears and squat with your head between your knees so you are the smallest possible target for the lightning.

You must do these things when someone has been hit with lighting:

  • Breathing - do mouth-to-mouth if breathing has stopped.
  • Heartbeat - do CPR is the heart has stopped, administer CPR.
  • Call for help


An earthquake occurs when the earth has quick and sudden movement and shaking. Many deaths, injuries and property damage can result when they occur in an area with a lot of people.

Here are some terms that you should know:

Aftershock - shaking of the earth after the main quake that is less severe

Epicenter - the place on the surface of the earth where the quake begins

Seismic Waves - the vibrations that travel away from the center for many miles sometimes

Magnitude - the severity of the earthquake. A 7.0 on the Richter Scale is a very strong earthquake.

Things to do during a quake:

  • Stay indoors in a safe place
  • Go under a sturdy desk, table, or bench or against an inside wall
  • Cover your face and head with your arms and crouch down
  • Stay away from windows
  • Move away from buildings if you are outdoors
  • If you are in a car, pull over into an area that is not near a building
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing to keep dust out if you become trapped under fallen objects
  • Tap on a pipe so that people above the pile of debris can hear you if you are under a debris pile


A volcano is a hole in the surface of the earth that throws up pieces of melted rock, ash, gases and lava. Lava is a fire hazard because it is very hot. Most spread slowly so people can get out of the way.

Things to do:

  • Leave the area and be aware of mudslides in low areas.
  • Wear safety goggles, long sleeved clothing and slacks.
  • Hold a damp cloth over your mouth.
  • Stay indoors until all the ash has settled.
  • Close windows, doors and all ventilation holes (vents, air conditioners, etc.)


About 25,000 people are hurt in fires every year and more than 4,000 people die each year as a result of a fire. Be prepared at all times for a fire. Fires start and spread very fast. There is little time to think and no time to gather up important items. The only things that you have time for is to get out and stay out.

Ways to prevent injuries from fires:

  • Use, take care of and pay attention to all fire alarms and all smoke alarms.
  • Do not use or store dangerous chemicals like naphtha and gasoline.
  • Never smoke near flammable liquids.
  • Use space heaters with great care.
  • Keep all open flames (candles, fireplaces) away from curtains and furniture.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children and adults who do not understand the dangers of fire.
  • Make sure that all electric wires are safe.
  • Do not overload outlets.
  • Do not use frayed cords or extension cords.
  • Have plenty of A-B-C-type fire extinguishers and know how to use them.

If your clothes catch on fire, you should:

  • Stop, drop, and roll - until the fire is extinguished. Running only makes the fire burn faster.

To escape a fire, you must:

  • Check closed doors for heat, using the back of your hand, before you open them.
  • Crawl through smoky places. Do not stand up.



You should add the following supplies to your disaster kit:

  • Plastic sheeting.
  • Duct tape.
  • Scissors.

You should listen to your local radio or TV stations to learn about the hazardous material problem. Follow the instructions that you are given. These materials can be solid, liquid or gas. They can be in the air. You cannot always smell or see them so do not be fooled into thinking that everything is fine if you cannot see or smell anything.

You must:

  • Evacuate if you are told to do so.
  • Close and lock all doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible. Turn off air conditioners, the heater and ventilation systems if you are told to stay indoors.
  • Go into a safe room. Cover the windows, doors and vents with the plastic sheets and duct tape.
  • If you are outdoors, stay upstream, uphill, and upwind. Stay at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger. Do not walk through or touch any material.
  • If you are in your car, try to find a safe shelter. If you cannot find a safe place, close the car windows and vents. Turn off the air conditioner and the heater.


All houses and workplaces are filled with chemicals, including cleaners, waxes, lawn fertilizers, etc.

You must:

  • Keep all chemicals out of the reach of children and adults who do not understand the dangers.
  • Keep chemicals in their original containers. Never put them in food containers.
  • Never mix chemicals together. Combinations like bleach and ammonia can be deadly.
  • Clean up spills immediately. Wear gloves and dispose of rags after you are done.
  • Throw out hazardous materials in the correct manner. Check your local laws.

The signs of chemical poisoning are:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Eye, skin, throat and lung irritation
  • Skin color changes
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Sleepiness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea

Call 9-1-1 and/or the poison control (800) 222-1222 if you suspect chemical poisoning.


There are nuclear power plants in almost all states throughout the country. About 3 million Americans live less than 10 miles from a nuclear power plant. Accidents sometimes happen even though the government closely looks them at. Dangerous radiation can leak into the area around the plant when a plant problem occurs. People near it may be exposed to radiation, which can be very harmful.

Use the distance-shielding - time rule to decrease the risks of exposure to radiation:

Distance - The more distance between you and the radiation, the better. Evacuation and staying indoors with a sealed, closed house are examples of putting distance between you and the problem.

Shielding - Heavy, dense material between you and the radiation protects you.

Time - The longer you stay away the better.

Follow the instructions from your area, the radio or the TV.

Some terms that you want to know are:

Notification of Unusual Event - a small problem has happened but no radiation leak will occur. You do not have to do anything when this notification occurs.

Alert - small amounts of radiation can leak inside the plant. This will not affect you and no action is needed.

Site Area Emergency - sirens may be sounded because some radiation can leak outside of the plant into the area. Listen to your radio or television for safety information.

You may have to:

  • Evacuate
  • Close your windows and vents if you can stay in the home or workplace
  • Turn off the air conditioner, furnace, and other air intakes.
  • Go to a basement or an underground area.

If you are exposed:

  • Shower, place all clothes in a plastic bag and throw it away
  • Throw all food out that is not sealed or in the refrigerator
  • Go to the doctor if you feel sick


Terrorism is the use of violence and force against people and property. The World Trade Center was a terrible example of terrorism.

Terrorists do these things to make people afraid. Some of the things that they may do are:

  • assassinations;
  • kidnappings;
  • hijackings;
  • bomb scares;
  • bombs;
  • chemical weapons;
  • biological weapons;
  • nuclear weapons and
  • radiological weapons.

Big cities, government buildings, airports and landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. are at the most at risk for terrorism. Chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons can lead to death and very serious health problems especially when water and food are affected. Follow the orders of your government officials, the police and the fire departments.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something does not seem right.
  • Be aware of unusual behavior and packages.
  • Know where your emergency exits are as soon as you enter a building.
  • Always be ready to do without basic things like electric, telephone, gas, ATMs, and the Internet.


Disasters and emergencies are few and far between. This does not mean, however, that you do not have to be prepared for one. We must always be ready to act and react when we are faced with a disaster or an emergency.

This class gave you some information about a large number of disasters and emergencies, but it is very important that you also study your workplace policies and procedures and act according to what they say.


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Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)
Are You Ready? [online].www.fema.gov/areyouready/why_prepare.shtm


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Kee, Joyce LeFever and Evelyn Hayes. (2009). Pharmacology: A Nursing Process Approach 6th Edition. Saunders Elsevier.


Monahan, Frances Donovan and Wilma J. Phipps (2007). Phipps’ Medical-Surgical Nursing: Health and Illness Perspectives. 8th Edition. Elsevier Mosby.

Nettina, Sandra M. (2009). The Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice. 7th Ed. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

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Copyright © 2010 Alene Burke