Nurses and Disasters

Global, Historical Case Studies
Edited by:
  • Keeling, Arlene W., PhD, RN, FAAN
  • Wall, Barbra Mann, PhD, RN, FAAN








This book describes and analyzes nurses’ roles in select cases from disasters that have occurred in areas around the world from the late 19th century to the present. These include an outbreak of typhoid in Tasmania in 1885 to 1887; a devastating earthquake in Italy in 1908; an Ohio (USA) flood in 1913; the Alaskan influenza epidemic of 1918; the World War II bombings of London and Manchester, England, in 1941; the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941; the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945; a destructive wild fire in Bar Harbor, Maine (USA), in 1947; the SARS crisis in Toronto, Canada, in 2003; and the effects of Hurricane Sandy on hospitals in New York City (USA) in 2012. Nurses’ actions are situated within local responses, national networks, and international aid. Nurses are a critical part of disaster response, and the book gives them a voice. Themes that recur throughout the narrative are: the notion of a nurse’s “duty to care” versus the need to protect herself or himself; the need for innovation and coordination of the response effort; and cooperation among the responders versus inherent political, racial, and interprofessional conflicts. Thus, the book examines political sensitivities, international conflicts, cultural differences, and societies’ varying professional and gendered expectations of nurses. In addition, the book highlights nurses’ voices during major World War II bombings, addressing realities that occurred during the war that have long been silenced for reasons of political and social correctness. These case studies document nurses’ roles in response to the London Blitz, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the bombing of Hiroshima, revealing nurses’ response to these crises: their dedication to patients, their ability to triage and improvise, and their adaptation to nursing professional norms expected in various cultures.

Chapter 1: Typhoid Fever Epidemic, 1885 to 1887, Tasmania, Australia




  • Grehan, Madonna


In 19th century, Tasmania, an island 300 miles to the south of the Australian mainland, was one of Australia’s seven colonies. With many ports in this island colony, Tasmania was no stranger to infectious diseases. Unsurprisingly, typhoid was described as an “insidious foe”, because it was rather different from a natural disaster or other such calamity of scale. When typhoid was endemic in Hobart, mortality stood at around 15 cases per year. The nursing care of typhoid patients was constant; it required regular sponging, compressing, hydration, feeding, and recording the various treatments and stimulants given. Individuals with advanced typhoid could muster enormous reserves of strength, despite their delirium and underlying weakness. It is fair to say that Hobart General Hospital (HGH) had its fair share of administrative concerns during infectious disease challenges in the 1870s and 1880s, because the hospital failed to keep up with community expectations of health care.