Learning From Disaster in Mexico

Of all the natural disasters, the world is the least prepared to handle earthquakes, according to Gerardo Jasso-Ortega, a nurse manager and president of the Mexican Association of Emergency Nurses.

“We are not as prepared for earthquakes,” he told Emergency Nursing 2019 attendees during a session last week.

Between 2000 and 2018, there were 520 seismic events in the world — far fewer than storms and other disasters. However, earthquakes resulted in the largest percentage of deaths — nearly half — Jasso-Ortega explained.

Mexico City suffered devastating earthquakes in 1985 and 2017. The former registered 8.1 on the Richter scale and resulted in 10,000 deaths. Two years ago, on the anniversary of the ‘85 event, the capital city was struck again with an earthquake that registered 7.1 on the scale.

Although the implementation of disaster plans resulted in far fewer deaths in 2017, much work still needs to be done, he said.

Communication is a fundamental issue. If an earthquake takes out radio communications and electricity, it can be impossible to know the status of other EDs and how many patients each is treating.

Jasso-Ortega also said it is imperative to include nurses as critical members of the disaster response team. Until recently, nurses in Mexico were viewed only as bedside care takers, which he said is strange because they are on the front lines during disasters.

Jasso-Ortega provided evidence of progress in improving disaster planning, including the World Health Organization’s Safe Hospital Initiative.

“It is frustrating to see how many people die due to lack of preparation,” Jasso-Ortega said. “Maybe we have begun to change that.”

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