When a natural disaster occurs: Lessons learned in meeting students' needs

Pamela G. Watson, Vincent J. Loffredo, John C. McKee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Across the nation, weather-related natural disasters-tropical storms, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes-struck even areas where weather concerns are not paramount on the minds of most people. These natural disasters heightened awareness that all geographic areas are susceptible to aberrant weather conditions. The purpose of this article was to relate the lessons learned by one academic health center in meeting students' emergency preparedness and disaster recovery needs following a major hurricane in fall 2008. To gauge students' storm-related needs, a Hurricane Needs Survey (HNS) was conducted in spring 2009, 7 months after the hurricane. Students responded to 26 structured response items and 3 open-ended questions. Five hundred fifteen surveys were completed, constituting a response rate of 37.2%. Data were analyzed by creating frequencies to profile students' hurricane experiences. Results indicated that all students left the island under mandatory evacuation orders; most stayed with their families, and most experienced moderate material losses. For some students, the evacuation process and life after the storm contributed to ongoing problems, worries, and academic performance issues. Qualitative content analysis was used to derive themes from the students' narrative responses to the HNS open-ended questions about their perceptions of the extent to which the University of Texas Medical Branch met their needs. When students' hurricane response comments were analyzed, three major themes emerged: being prepared, needing to be connected, and returning to normalcy.The major lessons learned are that the emergency preparation of students requires greater specificity and that discussion about poststorm recovery expectations is essential. Following a natural disaster, students experience more distress than may be readily apparent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-369
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Professional Nursing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Disaster management, Hurricane
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Higher education
  • Natural disasters
  • Students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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