Certain events are blatantly catastrophic, and it is immediately clear that a mass casualty incident has occurred. Activation of the disaster plan occurs and a structured response is mobilized. Other events may not immediately declare themselves as disasters; but as casualties accumulate and local resources are dispensed, it becomes more evident that the disaster plan should be activated and that life as we know it has changed forever.
The massacre last Friday in a Connecticut elementary school is more than another assault to the nation’s psyche — it is a reminder that the worst disasters on earth can occur no further than our own backyards. The horrors that transpired in the two classrooms were revealed throughout the day as sadness and grief swept quickly across Newtown and the rest of the nation. Twenty six lives lost, twenty of them innocent children housed in the warmth and safety of their neighborhood school. “Pupils Were All Shot Multiple Times With a Semiautomatic, Officials Say” ran a headline in The New York Times on Sunday, December 16, 2012. How could this happen? The inevitable question arises — why? How do we make sense of that question when there is only senselessness? How can we help the families and the community move forward in the wake of such a horrific event? What are the steps from response to recovery?
Let’s get started. If you are a school nurse, participate in the review and update of your school or district emergency preparedness plan. INSIST on full scale drills to evaluate every component of the plan and test the adequacy of the safety measures in place in your school.
If you are a parent, request specific details regarding your child’s school emergency preparedness plan and make sure that you understand the part you need to play if an event occurs at your child’s school.
Meet with local law enforcement and other safety experts to evaluate the safety protection measures in ANY and ALL child community congregate settings in your town (e.g. day care, after-school, camp, churches and residential living).
Get involved with the American Red Cross. If you are a nurse, consider volunteering as a disaster health services volunteer or as a mental health team member. GIVE in some way, whether it is donating blood, your money or your time. The Red Cross needs you, now more than ever to support the increasing demands upon the organization to help those in need.
ADVOCATE for those policies that you know facilitate community health & safety. Particularly, we as nurses must advocate for funding for realistic and pragmatic policies that encourage appropriate access to mental and behavioral health care.
EDUCATE our patients and communities to view gun violence through the lens of a public health issue. At a minimum, INSIST that your local legislators pass meaningful and sensible gun control laws. BAN all guns from a set distance from any school.
It is immensely difficult to move beyond an event such as last week’s school shooting. Our thoughts and prayers will be with these families in the painful months to come. But move forward we must and for our nation’s nurses there is much we need to address. We have children to protect and there is no time to be lost.