Challenges and Resources for Nurses Participating in a Hurricane
Sandy Hospital Evacuation
Nancy VanDevanter, RN, DrPH1 , Victoria H. Raveis, PhD2 , Christine T. Kovner, RN, PhD3 , Meriel McCollum,
BSN, RN4 , & Ronald Keller, PhD, MPA, RN, NE-BC5
1 Professor, New York University, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York, NY, USA
2 Professor, New York University, College of Dentistry, New York, NY, USA
3 Professor, New York University, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York, NY, USA
4 PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
5 Senior Director of Nursing NYU Hospitals Center, New York University, Langone Medical Center, New York, NY, USA
Key words
Nurse’s disaster experience, nurses’ disaster
preparedness education, Superstorm Sandy
Dr. Nancy VanDevanter, New York University,
College of Nursing, 433 1st Ave., New York, NY
10010. E-mail:
Accepted May 13, 2017
doi: 10.1111/jnu.12329
Purpose: Weather-related disasters have increased dramatically in recent
years. In 2012, severe flooding as a result of Hurricane Sandy necessitated
the mid-storm patient evacuation of New York University Langone Medical
Center. The purpose of this study was to explore, from the nurses’ perspective, what the challenges and resources were to carrying out their responsibilities, and what the implications are for nursing education and preparation for
Design: This mixed-methods study included qualitative interviews with a
purposive sample of nurses and an online survey of nurses who participated in
the evacuation.
Methods: The interviews explored prior disaster experience and training, communication, personal experience during the evacuation, and lessons
learned. The cross-sectional survey assessed social demographic factors, nursing education and experience, as well as potential challenges and resources in
carrying out their disaster roles.
Findings: Qualitative interviews provided important contextual information
about the specific challenges nurses experienced and their ability to respond
effectively. Survey data identified important resources that helped nurses to
carry out their roles, including support from coworkers, providing support to
others, personal resourcefulness, and leadership. Nurses experienced considerable challenges in responding to this disaster due to limited prior disaster
experience, training, and education, but drew on their personal resourcefulness, support from colleagues, and leadership to adapt to those challenges.
Conclusions: Disaster preparedness education in schools of nursing and
practice settings should include more hands-on disaster preparation exercises,
more “low-tech” options to address power loss, and specific policies on nurses’
disaster roles.
Clinical Relevance: Nurses play a critical role in responding to disasters.
Learning from their disaster experience can inform approaches to nursing education and preparation.
Weather-related disasters have increased dramatically in
recent years (Guha-Sapir, Hoyois, & Below, 2014) which
has resulted in an increased emphasis on institutional
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preparation and training, particularly among emergency
response and healthcare provider organizations. Hospital
evacuations are rare events, usually caused by natural or
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
manmade disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or
chemical spills (Concanour et al., 2002). Forced hospital
evacuations without power are even more rare (Chavez
& Binder, 1996) and are usually caused by unanticipated
loss of power and water damage (Schultz, Koenig,
& Lewis, 2003). When hospitals experience a forced
evacuation, healthcare providers become both victims
and responders. Typically, disaster training in hospitals
is directed at dealing with mass casualties rather than
forced evacuation (Concanour et al., 2002).
Nurses play a critical role in disaster preparedness
(Gebbie & Qureshi, 2006; Institute of Medicine [IOM],
2010), but many nurses are not confident of their abilities to respond effectively to disasters and are unsure
of their roles (Baack & Alfred, 2013). Managing disasters
presents significant challenges, including disaster-related
stress (Collins, 2000). Those with experience and training report feeling more confident to respond (Adams &
Canclini, 2008).
Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy was designated a
late-season post-tropical cyclone by the U.S. Weather
Service just before it made landfall in Atlantic City, New
Jersey, on October 28, 2012. The storm that began in
the Caribbean and moved up the east coast of the United
States eventually took 149 lives and left billions of dollars
in damage to communities.
Preparations for Hurricane Sandy began in New York
City Emergency Response agencies and hospitals the
week before landfall. New York University Langone
Medical Center (NYULMC) is located only one city block
from the East River in the New York City borough of
Manhattan. This was the second time in a little more
than a year that NYULMC had been threatened by a
climate event, Hurricane Irene occurring in August 2011.
In preparation for Hurricane Irene, city and state officials
had mandated NYULMC and two other hospitals to
evacuate before the storm made landfall. These hospitals
all experienced minimal damage as a result of Hurricane
Irene and re-opened within hours of landfall. Prior
to Hurricane Sandy, the city and state decided not to
mandate evacuation, and hospitals implemented plans to
shelter in place (SIP). At NYULMC, preparations included
enhancing the physical barriers for flood protection that
were used during Hurricane Irene. As many patients
as possible were discharged. Within the hospital, some
patients who would SIP were moved from units vulnerable to high wind on the east side of the building to less
vulnerable units on the lower floors on the west side of
the building. Patients heavily dependent on electronic
equipment were also moved to areas of the hospital with
more robust power capacity. Around 7 p.m. the evening
of October 28, the barriers around the medical center
that had been put in place in preparation for the storm
VanDevanter et al.
were breached, flooding the cellar and ground floors,
and causing a power failure throughout the hospital.
Though emergency power sources were available for a
period of time, it soon became apparent that the level
of temporary power was not sustainable, and immediate
evacuation of all patients and staff would be required.
The purpose of this study was to explore, from the
nurses’ perspective, how they functioned in these extraordinary circumstances, what the challenges and resources were to carrying out their responsibilities, what
lessons were learned, and what the implications are for
nursing education and training for disasters response.
Study Design
We chose a mixed-methods approach to the study,
beginning with in-depth qualitative interviews followed
by an anonymous online survey. The qualitative interviews provided important information that informed
the content of the quantitative survey. For example,
nurses described in detail the challenges they had to
face and what resources had helped them to adapt to
those challenges. The methodology for the qualitative
and quantitative study is detailed separately in the
ensuing text. The protocol for the study was reviewed
and approved by the New York University School of
Medicine Institutional Review Board.
Phase 1: Qualitative Interviews
Sample and recruitment. We recruited a purposive sample of nurses who had experienced the
evacuation based on practice area (cardiology, pediatrics,
obstetrics, neonatology, oncology, general medicine,
orthopedics), nursing experience (a range of less than
1 year to 20 years, with more nurses having 1 to 3
years of experience), and organizational role (staff nurse,
nurse manager) in the disaster. We used text, e-mail,
and phone to contact nurses and invite them to participate in a 1-hr interview to explore their experiences
during and after Hurricane Sandy. Sixteen of the 20
nurses contacted agreed to participate (response rate
80%). Of those, 12 held staff nurse positions and 4 held
management positions.
Data collection. Experienced qualitative interviewers (N.V. and V.H.R.) conducted 1-hr interviews
with participants in a private setting between April and
June 2013. We assured participants that no individual
identifiers would be collected, that the interview would
be audio-taped to insure the accuracy of the data, and
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Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
VanDevanter et al.
immediately after the transcription of the interview the
audiotape would be destroyed. We gave participants
an information sheet describing the study and contact
information for the principal investigator (N.V.) and the
New York University School of Medicine Institutional
Review Board. Participants verbally agreed to participate.
Measures. The interview guide contained questions
about professional background and role at NYULMC and
potential challenges and resources for nurses during the
evacuation, including emergency preparedness training
experience prior to the hurricane, familiarly with hospital disaster policies and procedures, role in the disaster,
communication and leadership during the disaster, and
personal evacuation experience. To develop the interview
guide, we drew on the extant disaster literature and information from a small group of NYULMC nurses with
disaster experience.
Qualitative data analysis. All interviews were
transcribed verbatim. Each member of the research
team read all of the transcripts initially. Two members
of the research team with extensive qualitative experience developed a detailed codebook using a three-step
process, initially conducting open coding followed by
focused coding and finally identification of major themes.
Transcripts were coded and entered into ATLAS.ti 6.0
(; ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development GmbH, Chicago, IL, USA)
by a trained qualitative researcher. A subset of 20% of
the interviews was independently coded by a research
student familiar with the study to establish interrater
reliability (84%).
Phase 2. Quantitative Survey
The quantitative cross-sectional study consisted of an
anonymous Internet-based survey that was conducted
from July to September 2013.
Sample and recruitment. The sampling frame
consisted of all registered nurses (RNs; N = 1,668) who
were employed by NYULMC and worked on inpatient
units on October 29, 2013. 528 of the nurses responded
to the survey, for a 32% response rate. For the purposes
of this analysis, only nurses that were present for the
evacuation and responded to the survey were included
(N = 173).
Nurses were recruited via e-mail using procedures
described in the ensuing text. The confidential link
to the e-mail addresses of all nurses who worked at
NYULMC was obtained from the Senior Vice President
and Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital. At no time
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did the researchers have a list of the nurses’ e-mail
Measures. We collected information on sociodemographic variables, including type of nursing education
and clinical experience, potential challenges during the
evacuation such as communication, leadership availability, adequacy of disaster preparedness training prior to
the evacuation, and perceived threat to safety for patients and nurses. We also assessed potential resources
that could support nurses in their disaster and evacuation
roles, such as previous disaster experience and training in
disaster preparedness, support from co-workers, family,
and friends, personal resourcefulness, faith, spirituality,
or religion. Prior to sending out the link to the survey,
the survey was pilot tested by professional nurses on the
study advisory group.
Data collection. Prior to initiation of the study, we
sent an e-mail to the total sample describing the study
purpose and alerting potential nurse participants that
they would receive an e-mail with a link to the survey
within a few days. Three days later, we sent a second
e-mail providing a link to the online Qualtrics survey on a
secure website at New York University. Qualtrics assigned
an identification code to each respondent. Reminder
e-mails were sent at the end of the second and third
weeks after the initial e-mail. Of the 1,668 nurses contacted, 528 returned completed surveys, for a response
rate of 33%.
Quantitative data analysis. Survey data were
downloaded into an SPSS data file. Six cases were eliminated because they did not meet the inclusion criteria. Of
the 528 nurses who returned surveys who met the criteria of working at NYULMC at the time of the hurricane,
all those who did not participate in the evacuation were
eliminated, leaving a sample of 173 for this analysis.
Phase 1. Qualitative Interviews
Participants’ qualitative
following themes.
Hurricane Irene influenced expectations about
Hurricane Sandy. Because this was an unplanned
evacuation that ended in hospital closure, nurses had to
adapt to rapidly changing unpredictable events and circumstances. Hurricane Irene 1 year earlier had provided
practice in evacuation that increased nurses’ ability to
carry out their responsibilities. However, that experience
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
also contributed to the erroneous belief that Hurricane
Sandy would be a controlled event as Hurricane Irene
had been. Hurricane Irene was described by these
participants as taking place within a very controlled
environment where electricity was available, elevators
worked, there was time to make appropriate contacts
with other hospitals, and all preparedness was completed
a day in advance prior to the storm. Participants variously described that experience as “calm, easy, no stress.”
One felt “we were indestructible.” Several participants
described Hurricane Irene as “a drill” or “dry run” for
Hurricane Sandy; thus, they expected that nothing “bad”
would happen. One participant stated:
In the back of my mind I literally just thought it was
going to be similar to Irene, yeah the storm is coming,
we’ll have some flooding in the basement, and you
know like they did before, a little water, and they’ll dry
it up and the hospital will open the next day like it did
last time and we’ll be back to business as normal. (P6)
As a result of that experience and the institutional decision to SIP, none of the study participants expected that
it would be necessary to evacuate patients as a result of
Hurricane Sandy until the power outage occurred.
Limited personal external disaster experience
prior to Hurricane Sandy. Only three participants
described any external formal experience or training in
disaster preparedness, one with the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), one a member of the
New York City Medical Response team, and one who
came from another country where disasters of this kind
were frequent. One who did have previous external experience with disasters reflected on the value she derived
from that external experience:
Well, kind of luckily, I’m a member of the local medical
response type thing, so I’ve gone to a couple of their
seminars, and their evacuations are much more kind
of global, you know with chemical evacuation for
those kind of emergencies, but it does give you an
idea of how to triage people and um I guess just from
experience you know how to triage people, like if we
have to evacuate the patients, who should go first,
what equipment is needed, and things like that, and
you have good support, I won’t say I’m an expert, by
no means at all. (P16)
Hospital-based policy and nurses’ training
related to disaster. Most participants (80%) reported
limited knowledge of hospital disaster policies and procedures, though many said there were manuals available
on the patient care units and online but they had never
VanDevanter et al.
accessed the information personally. When asked about
hospital-based disaster training, many participants (60%)
cited training in the use of Med Sleds (equipment used
to move non-ambulatory patients down stairways in an
emergency;; ARC Products
LLC, Des Peres, MO, USA). However, many (70%) said
they had no hands-on experience with the Med Sled and
some did not have any orientation to it before the night
of the evacuation. One participant described her disasterrelated training: “We were trained on how to use the Med
Sled but, like I said, we were in unfamiliar territory. All
we were trained for was how to evacuate this unit” (P2).
A few nurses identified general disaster training topics
they learned about in formal hospital disaster training: “I
hadn’t much experience to be honest in terms of training.
We had basic training, you know, what numbers to call,
like fires or spills . . . but not specifically what happens if
there is a hurricane” (P5).
In contrast, many participants did feel they had the
ability to successfully transport critically ill patients off
the unit and to triage which patients could go home and
which required further hospitalization.
Perceived ability of nurses to respond
effectively to disaster. Many participants stated
they did not feel prepared for the actual hospital evacuation (as compared to a unit evacuation). A younger
nurse expressed her thinking at the time she first learned
about the evacuation: “I felt like I had no idea what I
was doing. I don’t know what my role is” (P5). Another
participant experienced similar feelings when she heard
about the coming evacuation: “I couldn’t imagine evacuating in the middle of a hurricane” (P10). However, the
few participants with external disaster training did feel
Clarity of expected roles in disaster. Participants
characterized their role with regard to the care of the
patients more clearly than how they fit into the disaster command structure of the hospital. One experienced
nurse explained what she believes about nurses’ understanding of their roles in the organizational structure of
the hospital disaster response command structure:
I think organizationally that that command structure,
I’m not really sure that all of it, that it really gets down
to all the staff, quite honestly. I think the staff probably
know what happens on their unit and they defer to
the nurse manager if there’s an issue on their unit, . . .
if it’s who to shut off oxygen or what to do, they go to
the nurse in charge. So I think . . . that they probably
just look at the person on their unit as opposed to the
whole structure . . . .” (P3)
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VanDevanter et al.
Another participant described her view of the nurses’ role
in relation to the patient:
I think I was expected to help out to, if there is evacuation, make sure evacuate the patient in a safe way.
And also make sure that before you evacuate, each
patient must have, you have to have enough stuff to,
to take care of the patient. So this is my main concern
and main responsibility.” (P7)
Nurse managers (n = 3) all articulated their disasterrelated responsibilities for nursing staff: providing support
and leadership, and identifying means and channels of
communication with nurses both within the hospital and
at home.
Hospital preparations undertaken prior to the
storm. All participants described multiple activities undertaken by the nursing department of the hospital to
manage the disaster prior to the evacuation. The first
activity was action to insure adequate staffing, including identifying accommodations for nurses to sleep in
the hospital to insure a round-the-clock staffing pattern
for an indeterminate period of time. This included consolidating and reassigning nurses internally and setting
an expectation that nurses would report to duty unless they lived too far away or had significant competing
A second major area of hospital disaster preparedness
activities for nursing included triage and discharge of patients who could be discharged and making contact with
potential transfer hospitals (this only happened with a
few units).
Nurses participated in the relocation of patients within
the hospital prior to the storm (same day). Patients were
moved away from the east side of the hospital because it
was the most vulnerable to the storm. Moves were both
horizontal (east to west) as well as vertical (down to
lower floors), and patients were consolidated where possible to areas with the best (newly remodeled) emergency
power capacity. Nurses prepared the patients for this relocation as “a safety precaution” to “decrease potential fear
and panic in the patients.” The relocation was described
this way by one participant:
They had done a horizontal evacuation . . . the whole
east side of the hospital to the west side . . . because
the east side had all of those big windows facing
the river, high winds . . . before anything had even
happened . . . just in expectation of how things were
gonna go. (P1)
Another participant noted the attention to potential
power shortages: “Earlier that same day the hospital had
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Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
been moving people around so that patients were consolidated in the areas they knew the emergency power was
the best” (P7).
Effects of power loss on nurses’ ability to
function. Nurses reported two major effects of power
loss on their ability to function. The first was the ability to care for patients who required equipment run on
electricity. Back-up generators provided an initial power
source as did battery back-up, but nurses were also at
times manually replacing electronic equipment functions
(particularly when transporting patients down the stairs
during the evacuation) as well as recharging equipment
where possible on other units or floors where there were
free outlets.
In addition, medical records and medication carts are
also electronic; thus, nurses had to improvise access to
both. Because patients were to be transported to other
hospitals, medical record data needed to accompany
them. Nurses printed electronic medical data prior to
power loss in some cases and wrote medical summaries to
accompany patients when that was not possible. Medication carts were kept open in anticipation of power failure
or broken into if necessary. As one participant remembered, “The nurse managers really scrambled and thought
quickly about ‘let’s get the medication, let’s print out the
MAR [electronic medical record], let’s get the face sheet
and vital information they needed’” (P3). Another participant noted, “Nurses went around when the lights started
to go and they opened all of the med carts because they
open by code” (P7).
The second major effect of power loss was on nurses’
ability to communicate with each other, with nursing
leadership, or with families. Most participants described
the significant problem of limited communication options. With loss of power, hospital telephones went
out, cell phones, including smart phones, could not be
charged, computers were not available, and, without
elevators, face-to-face communication became more
I think the most frustrating part was the communication. We didn’t have phone service, our emergency
phone, no electricity, no computers, we’re so focused
on technology now . . . my only way to communicate was to use my Blackberry, the telephone and our
cell phones and hopefully they didn’t die because we
couldn’t charge them . . . so it was communication.
Nurses’ preparation of patients and families
for evacuation. One pediatric nurse described the
challenge of communicating about the need for
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
evacuation while trying to insure that family members
and patients did not become anxious:
You know you couldn’t be outwardly afraid because
the parents are freaking out because you had to be
a stronghold for this patient’s family . . . you kind
had to put on a brave face and relay the plan to the
parents . . . . (P1)
Nurse participants described making lists of what each patient would need to take with them and began to gather
those things together such as a schedule of medications,
vital signs, and downloaded electronic medical record
data. Nurses sometimes had to go to other floors, recovery rooms, and intensive rooms to find medication if they
did not have sufficient doses to send. Patients who were
postoperative or in pain were given pain medication prior
to evacuation. In some cases, all of this was done in an
Patients were triaged for evacuation based on acuity. In
some situations, the plan for order of the evacuation was
changed in midcourse when it appeared to not be working (i.e., evacuating sicker patients first meant slowing
down the process because they took longer and everyone
still had to wait for ambulances at the bottom), showing adaptability to the circumstances. Nurse participants
stressed the importance of remaining calm with patients
and families, who responded well as a consequence, and
thus the nurses remained calm themselves.
Transport of patients to ground floor during
evacuation. The physical evacuation of patients down
stairwells took place in two buildings of NYULMC over a
period of many hours; the Tisch Hospital (from the 17th
through the 8th floor) and Swartz Health Care Center
tower (13th through 9th floor). Only a few patients who
were left in the hospital were able to walk down the staircases themselves. Physical aspects of the evacuation were
described in detail by many participants. The majority of
patients (80%–90%) had to be evacuated on Med Sleds,
which required heavy lifting for staff. “Doing that over
and over again is exhausting” (P9).
One participant described how slow the process was:
If you have ever seen an evacuation with a Med
Sled, . . . it’s very slow because you . . . have to
be careful of the person in the sled. There’s a carabiner that goes on the top and like hooks on to
the top of each railing so that, heaven forbid one
of us slip and let go, it would continue to have
that support. So, every time you did a half a flight
of stairs, you have to unhook the carabiner . . .
so it was a long process. (P1)
VanDevanter et al.
Mutual support during the stairway evacuation was described by many participants: And I worked with people
I’d never seen before . . . but we all had the same goal to
bring this patient down safely (P12).
Every single person that worked in any kind of a
department here . . . like the guys in the suits were up
here with hard hats and jeans on and everybody in the
world seemed like was up here helping us to move.
Many participants described the assistance provided by
the New York Fire Department and the New York City
Police Department as very important to the success of the
evacuation. Overall, most participants described the stairway evacuation as “organized,” “seamless,” “extremely
professional,” “calm,” “very, very orderly,” “everyone
worked together,” “everyone listened to the leader,” and
“there was never an argument.”
Availability of support from nursing leadership during evacuation. Both newer and more experienced nurses described the importance of support from
nursing leadership and other leaders in enabling them to
fulfill their roles during the evacuation:
I got good direction from the people I needed to get
direction from, I felt good in terms of my ability to
take care of the patient, to take the patient out . . . my
nurse manager was right there . . . . (P1)
And another explained:
The leadership was great. Our senior leadership was
there (at the command center). Our nurse manager
was there . . . our medical director. And whatever
they got from the command center, they were good at
disseminating the information to us. (P4)
In contrast, one participant did not experience the level
of support needed because of the loss of communication
once the power was lost:
I have to say unfortunately, during that night, I did not
get a lot of support from the administration because we
don’t even have communication at that time . . . the
only immediate communication is from my medical
director. (P13)
Implications for education and training. Most
participants expressed a need for more training in disaster preparedness in professional education and in the
But from my experience we didn’t know what to
expect. So, there was a bit of a culture shock associated
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Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
VanDevanter et al.
with this, even the hospital administration may have
been prepared for this but we didn’t know who we
have to talk to, how to get the ambulances here, they
were prepared, we weren’t . . . so in the future I think
that part of nursing education . . . there should be a
component . . . disaster preparedness. What happens
in the event of a disaster, if you are working in a
hospital, what may you be called on to do. (P2)
A participant suggested nurses across the city should
be educated about the possibility that nurses could be
deployed to other hospitals in a disaster, and what
expectations would be for receiving facilities:
I think nurses all across the city need to be educated
about . . . disaster, nurses from 99 different hospitals may show up [at yours] to work . . . . This is our
expectation about how you are going to behave towards them . . . what you are going to do to make the
transition for them easier. (P2)
Quantitative Survey
The majority of the 173 participants were female
(89%), White (73%), and never married (47.9%), and
about one third (37%) had children. The vast majority of
participants (74%) had received a bachelor of science in
nursing degree. All of the nurses who participated in the
Hurricane Sandy evacuation had participated in the evacuation for Hurricane Irene the previous year. Echoing
the findings in the qualitative interviews, only 32% of
participants stated that their prior disaster preparedness
training had prepared them for the actual evacuation
(Table 1). Communication became a major issue due
to loss of power for Internet and land phones; thus, the
primary mode of communication nurses reported during
the disaster was face-to-face communication (72%)
followed by personal cell phone (24%). Once power
was lost, 73% of nurses perceived a serious or growing
threat to safety of patients and nurses. The majority of
participants (75%) reported their disaster and evacuation
leaders were nurses, which was an important resource
for them. Fortunately, 90% of participants described the
evacuation route as easy to follow despite crowding and
limited lighting.
The most common resources identified (see Table 1)
by participants that helped them to carry out their roles
in the evacuation were support from co-workers (77%),
support from nursing leadership (55%), their own resourcefulness (51%), and the fact that others remained
calm (45%). Other, less frequently mentioned, resources included faith or religious beliefs (16%), previous
disaster experience (15%), previous disaster training
(12%), belief that the hospital was well prepared (12%),
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Table 1. Challenges and Resources of Nurses Who Participated in the
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation (N = 173)
n (%)
Nurses who participated in Hurricane Irene evacuation
Potential challenges in the evacuation
Previous disaster preparedness training helped me
manage in this disaster
(Agree/strongly agree)
Primary mode of communication during the disaster
and the evacuation
(Face to face due to lack of internet, phone or cell
Perceived threat to safety of patients and nurses due
to power loss
(Very serious or growing problem)
Availability of leadership during the disaster and
Nursing leadership
Physician leadership
Difficulty of evacuation route
Easy to follow
Potential resources to help nurses carry out their role in
the evacuation
Support from co-workers
Support from leadership
Personal resourcefulness
Others remained calm
Faith/religious beliefs
Previous disaster experience
Previous disaster training
Felt hospital was well prepared
Support of family and friends
Providing support to others
173 (100%)
55 (32%)
124 (72%)
117 (73%)
130 (75%)
11 (7%)
155 (90%)
132 (77%)
95 (55%)
88 (51%)
77 (45%)
28 (16%)
25 (15%)
21 (12%)
20 (12%)
19 (11%)
16 (9%)
5 (9%)
support of family and friends (11%), and helping others
We explored the experience of nurses in a large
urban medical center responding to a major hurricane,
hospital evacuation, and subsequent hospital closure for
several months. Nurses participating in the evacuation
encountered numerous unanticipated challenges in responding to the disaster but overcame many by drawing
on personal, interpersonal, system, and community
resources, reflecting the dynamic interrelations among
various personal and environmental factors described in
Broffenbrenner’s (1977) Social Ecological Model (SEM).
This theory-based framework posits that there are five
interrelated levels of the SEM that determine behavior:
individual, interpersonal, community, organizational,
and policy/enabling environment. As the nurses’ narrative accounts illustrated, the support they received
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
spanned these levels. Nurses credited their personal
resilience (individual level), support from co-workers
(interpersonal level), support from organizational leaders (organizational level), support from family and
friends (community level), and external support from
emergency response agencies (policy or enabling environment) as resources that emerged and helped them to
address the many physical and environmental challenges
the disaster presented.
The challenges nurses encountered began with the
unanticipated flooding from the storm that resulted in
power loss and subsequently necessitated the hospital
evacuation. However, despite the lack of disaster training
and education, nurses developed creative responses that
drew on multiple resources. For example, the power
outage impacted two major areas: patient care and
staff communication. Without power, patient electronic
equipment was a major concern. To address this problem, nurses devised a plan to use back-up generators
and batteries, located outlets for charging equipment,
and prepared for manual use of equipment. Because
medications are now located in electronically operated
carts, nurses immediately unlocked medical carts and
located alternate sources for medications (intensive
care unit, operating room, pharmacy). Patients being
transferred to other health facilities needed to arrive
with pertinent medical information. Nurses printed out
information needed for transfer while generator power
was available and later, when adequate power was
unavailable, hand-wrote the summary notes of patients’
conditions and needs that was needed for transfer of
patients. To address the impact of power loss on staff
communication, nurses implemented use of Blackberries
where possible and physically went from one unit to
another (nurse leaders) for face-to-face communication.
The study confirms the findings in the limited literature on nurses and disaster preparedness. It demonstrated
that nurses do play a critical role in responding to disaster
(Gebbie & Qureshi, 2006; IOM, 2010) and that those with
experience and training report feeling more confident in
their ability to respond (Adams & Canclini, 2008).
The narrative accounts and quantitative survey data
in this study revealed important lessons learned from
this weather-related disaster. It is essential to enhance
the resources that can support nurses facing such challenges. FEMA recommends the use of exercises such as an
“all hazards approach” where professionals work together
to plan necessary steps to prepare for, respond to, and
recover from hazards of all types, including climaterelated (hurricane) and manmade disasters. They also
VanDevanter et al.
recommend the use of “table top” exercises where team
members engage and work together to manage the response to a hypothetical incident. These exercises can
greatly enhance the ability of participants to function in
future events. In particular, disaster preparedness training and policies and procedures for nurses practicing
in institutional settings should include preparation for
short- and long-term power outages. There is a need
to develop and make available more “low-tech” options
in the event of power loss (Med Sleds are a good example of replacing elevators) and alternatives for situations when high-tech equipment is not usable. Finally,
the dramatic increase in climate-related events worldwide over the past two decades demonstrates the compelling need to learn from these events and to routinely
include disaster preparedness in nursing education and
There are limitations to this study. Qualitative data are
not generalizable to other settings; however, they can
contribute to an understanding of the experience of participants in disaster events. Also, the study was conducted
6 to 10 months after Hurricane Sandy and the hospital
evacuation; thus, study participants’ recall could be affected. Despite these limitations, there is remarkable uniformity to the qualitative reports, and these accounts are
consistent with the quantitative findings.
Clinical Resource
American Nurses Association. Disaster preparedness & response.
Adams, L. M., & Canclini, S. B. (2008). Disaster readiness: A
community–university partnership. Online Journal of Issues
in Nursing, 13(3).
Baack, S., & Alfred, D. (2013). Nurse’s preparedness and
perceived competencies in managing disasters. Journal of
Nursing Scholarship, 45(3), 281–287.
Broffenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology
of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7),
Chavez, C. W., & Binder, B. (1996). A hospital as victim and
responder: The Sepulveda VA Medical Center and the
Northridge earthquake. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14(4),
Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 2017; 00:00, 1–9.

C 2017 Sigma Theta Tau International
VanDevanter et al.
Collins, L. (2000). Disaster management and preparedness. Boca
Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Concanour, C. S., Allen, S. J., Mazabob, J., Sparks, J. W.,
Fischer, C. P., Romans, J., & Lally, K. P. (2002). Lessons
learned from the evacuation of an urban teaching hospital.
Archives of Surgery, 137(10), 1141–1145.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. (1996). Guide for
all-hazard emergency operations planning. Retrieved from
Gebbie, K., & Qureshi, K. (2006). A historic challenge: Nurses
and emergencies. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 11(3),
Manuscript 1. Retrieved from www.nursingworld.orgojin/
Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 2017; 00:00, 1–9.

C 2017 Sigma Theta Tau International
Hurricane Sandy Hospital Evacuation
Guha-Sapir, D., Hoyois, P., & Below, R. (2014). Annual disaster
statistical review 2014: The numbers and trends. Brussels,
Belgium: Center for Research on the Epidemiology of
Disasters. Retrieved from
Institute of Medicine. (2010). The future of nursing: Leading
change, advancing health. Washington, DC: National
Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.
Schultz, C. H., Koenig, K. L., & Lewis, R. J. (2003).
Implications of hospital evacuation after Northridge,
California Earthquake. New England Journal of Medicine, 348,
Week 6
This week, read the journal article “Challenges
and Resources for Participating in a Hurricane
Sandy Hospital Evacuation” and complete the
activity below.
Hurricane Sandy
White House conference with FEMA and Department of Homeland Security in
preparation for at of the Hurricane Sandy.
Click to view the activity.
After completing the activity, discuss your role as
a nurse in disaster preparedness and response.
Describe your current patient population and
discuss the challenges you might face in carrying
out your responsibilities in a disaster.
How could you gain more hands-on training to
supplement your academic study of disaster
management? How could you feel more
prepared? Discuss different training options that
you could participate in (e.g., CERT training).
Support your answer with evidence from
scholarly sources.

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