ICN Report Aims to Improve Nurses’ Disaster Preparedness


Nurses are most often at the forefront of the natural and other disasters which seem to be happening with rising frequency across the globe. Are you adequately prepared to respond quickly, effectively and efficiently in a disaster or emergency situation? 

On November 5, the International Council of Nurses released the Core Competencies in Disaster Nursing report which provides guidelines on what every nurse should know and be able to do for effective disaster prevention, preparedness, and recovery. 

A disaster or an emergency is any event that is beyond the usual and calls for more resources than those that are readily available every day.

Preparing nurses for disasters

The report describes three levels of preparation – Level 1 competencies apply to all nurses. Level 2 is for those who have the Level 1 skills and who are in leadership positions or who could then go on to become a designated disaster responder within their organization. Level 3 competencies are those for nurses who will be deployed in teams to respond to a range of emergency situations. The Level 3 competencies are not included in the new ICN report and will be developed in the future.

The competencies are divided into eight domains: preparation and planning, communication, incident management systems, safety and security, assessment, intervention, recovery, and law and ethics. 


Skills for disaster nursing 

When nurses face a disaster situation, possibly even being on the spot when a disaster occurs within the community, they will need skills beyond those they use in their everyday practice. The report emphasizes that nurses should take disaster preparedness seriously. They should do refresher courses in basic first aid and participate in regular workplace drills. They need to familiarize themselves with the emergency resources and plans at their place of work. 

The following are some of the competencies, specific to disasters or emergencies, which all nurses should have: understanding and using disaster terminology, adapting documentation, and knowing how to fit into the disaster plan in relation to, for example, the chain of command, rapid assessment and triage.  All nurses should be able to do basic first aid, isolate persons at risk of spreading communicable diseases and implement or participate in decontamination. Nurses should also know when and how to engage others on the scene in order to extend resources.

National nursing associations, nursing education institutions, employers and emergency response organizations are encouraged to use and apply the guidelines in this report.

“When these new competencies are adopted around the world it will mean that all nurses will be able to contribute effectively in disaster situations to ease the burden on their patients and communities,” explained Annette Kennedy, President of the ICN. 


Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.