Know the Law/Ethics of Disaster Response

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There are several legal and ethical issues facing nurses while practicing during a disaster.  Nurses are delivering care under altered circumstances, the response effort may be in a state where the nurse is not licensed, and the nurse may not be protected under the current laws.  ANA is working with other professional organizations to create laws to protect all medical responders, but currently the issues persist.  Below are some examples of these issues.


Despite the intentions of any nurse volunteer, it is important that the nurse volunteer understands the state and federal law may not provide the legal protections necessary.  In addition, consideration should be given to the nurse’s Code of Ethics and Nursing Scope and Standards, plus the state and legal regulatory issues.  A nurse that chooses to volunteer for a registry or a disaster response should know and understand the expectations of responders and be comfortable with the level of response.


Responding under designated federal response systems or through EMAC provides some guarantee that the volunteer has the right to reemployment following their deployment. An individual who chooses to respond as a spontaneous volunteer cannot necessarily expect a right to re-employment unless this is agreed upon by the employer.


Most state boards of nursing have established a procedure for swift licensure recognition during a disaster. However, if the state board of nursing in the affected state is unable to function due to power outage or other ramifications of the disaster, even these minimal procedures may be difficult.  Practicing without a license, even during an emergency, could leave the volunteer open to civil or criminal charges.