When Disaster Strikes

An emergency department’s effectiveness during and in the aftermath of a natural disaster is proportional to its level of preparedness. 

In a session this afternoon, attendees will learn how one northern California regional trauma center remained operational amid one of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history.

“Every ED nurse thinks about how other EDs deal with disasters,” said Sheila Smith, who was the lead nurse in the ED at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Oct. 8, 2017, when the wildfires broke out. “Hospitals are required to conduct drills for disaster preparedness and emergency management, and nurses need to know their roles and responsibilities.”

Firestorm in Wine Country: A Trauma Center’s Response

3:45 – 4:45 p.m.


Rooms 408, 409, 410

Smith, who is presenting at the session titled “Firestorm in Wine Country: A Trauma Center’s Response,” said her department dealt with the devastating effects of the natural disaster, even though nearly half the hospital staff was directly affected, either by a forced evacuation or total loss of their homes. 

Two other hospitals in the region shut down the night of the fires because so many people were evacuated from the area. That meant an even busier ED at Santa Rosa Memorial. 

An outpouring of community support enabled Santa Rosa Memorial staff, even those affected by the tragedy, to continue their efforts to care for the people injured and sickened during the ordeal. Community members volunteered at shelters, brought food to hospital staff, donated money and clothing, and even adopted families who lost everything in the fires through a “match program” organized by one of their own nurses.

“I am beyond proud of my hospital—we are a community that cared for our community,” Smith said. “The experience pulled our team together like family. There was a sign that hung in Sonoma County during the wildfires that read, ‘The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.’ That statement captured the heart of our community perfectly.”

Smith said she hopes session attendees are inspired to go back to their own facilities with ideas for preparation and a desire to be actively involved in disaster drills in the future. With large swaths of wildfire currently roaring through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the future is now for many central and northern California towns.

“Eleven months later, more wildfires are raging even as we speak,” Smith said. “It is striking a familiar nerve with us, to say the least. We hate to think these disasters are becoming the norm.”