Nurses’ roles, knowledge and experience in national disaster pre-paredness and emergency response: A literature review


  • Thomas Grochtdreis
  • Nynke de Jong
  • Niels Harenberg
  • Stefan Görres
  • Peter Schröder-Bäck



Aim: Nurses play a central role in disaster preparedness and management, as well as in emergency response, in many countries over the world. Care in a disaster environment is different from day-to-day nursing care and nurses have special needs during a disaster. However, disaster nursing education is seldom provided and a lack of curricula exists in many countries around the world. The aim of this literature review is to provide an overview of nurses’ roles, knowledge and experience in national disaster preparedness and emergency response.

Methods: An electronic search was conducted using multiple literature databases. All items were included, regardless of the publication year. All abstracts were screened for relevance and a synthesis of evidence of relevant articles was undertaken. Relevant information was extracted, summarized and categorized. Out of 432 reviewed references, information of 68 articles was included in this review.

Results: The sub-themes of the first main theme (a) roles of nurses during emergency response include the expectations of the hospital and the public, general and special roles of nurses, assignments of medical tasks, special role during a pandemic influenza, role conflicts during a disaster, willingness to respond to a disaster. For (b) disaster preparedness knowledge of nurses, the corresponding sub-themes include the definition of a disaster, core competencies and curriculum, undergraduate nursing education and continuing education programs, disaster drills, training and exercises, preparedness. The sub-themes for the last theme (c) disaster experiences of nurses include the work environment, nursing care, feelings, stressors, willingness to respond as well as lessons learned and impacts.

Conclusion: There is consensus in the literature that nurses are key players in emergency response. However, no clear mandate for nurses exists concerning their tasks during a disaster. For a nurse, to be able to respond to a disaster, personal and professional preparedness, in terms of education and training, are central. The Framework of Disaster Nursing Competencies of the WHO and ICN, broken down into national core competencies, will serve as a sufficient complement to the knowledge and skills of nurses already acquired through basic nursing curricula. During and after a disaster, attention should be applied to the work environment, feelings and stressors of nurses, not only to raise the willingness to respond to a disaster. Where non-existent, national directives and concepts for disaster nursing should be developed and nurses should be aware of their duties. Nursing educators should prepare nurses for disasters, by adjusting the curricula and by meeting the increased need for education and training in disaster nursing for all groups of nurses. The appropriateness of theoretical and practical preparation of disaster nursing competencies in undergraduate nursing courses and continuing education programmes should be evaluated.




How to Cite

Grochtdreis, T., Jong, N. de, Harenberg, N., Görres, S., & Schröder-Bäck , P. (2023). Nurses’ roles, knowledge and experience in national disaster pre-paredness and emergency response: A literature review. South Eastern European Journal of Public Health.



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