Blizzards. Blackouts. Hurricanes and floods. Carol Porter, D.N.P., has seen them all.
As a New York City nurse trained in emergency management and preparedness, she’s helped hospitals navigate a series of catastrophic events – some natural, some man-made. Porter was on duty when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast in 2012. She cared for victims on and after 9/11, and was a director of emergency services during the New York City electrical blackout of 2003.
“I’ve been in nursing for more than 30 years,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot.”
In 2016, Porter left New York and joined MD Anderson as senior vice president and chief nursing officer. Once again, her emergency management skills came into play when Hurricane Harvey flooded much of Houston.
“Who knew I’d be handling another crisis so soon?” she says.
With other MD Anderson leaders, Porter helped guide the institution as it fought through and recovered from the devastating storm.
Porter awoke the morning of Aug. 27 to find her quiet street had become a raging river.
“My first thought was ‘I have to get to work,’” she recalls.
But the floodwaters that submerged the city had cut off access to MD Anderson. So Porter placed a call to the University of Texas Police Department.
“As a former trauma nurse, I formed close bonds with police officers who were on the scene during emergencies,” she says.
The police chief sent a high-water truck and two officers to get Porter.
“I’m only 5’ 2”, but I climbed up, and away we went,” she says.
More than 130 nurses were on duty when Porter arrived at the hospital. They’d worked the night shift and couldn’t leave due to flooding. Porter made sure they ate and alternated rest periods. She asked them to stay until flooding subsided.
“They were all on board,” she says.
Most had packed extra clothes, toiletries and snacks in anticipation of the hurricane.
“Nurses know that when bad weather is coming, they may need to remain at the hospital. They realize they can’t get home safely and the next shift can’t make it in,” Porter explains. “That’s the nursing mindset. You think ahead. You pack a bag. You prepare to stay.”
To care for those who rode out the storm, darkened sleeping areas with cots, pillows and blankets were designated throughout the hospital. While some worked, others slept. Then they reversed roles. Porter and her team made sure everyone rested.
“During a disaster, clinical staff are intense and adrenaline-driven,” she says. “I had to ask them to rest, because they wanted to keep working. I’d look them in the face, see how exhausted and stressed they were, and tell them ‘You can’t function and make good decisions if you don’t sleep.’”
By day three of the ride-out, many roads had cleared. Doctors, nurses and others departed the hospital as new staff arrived.
A young, newly graduated nurse exited the hospital, pushing a cart stacked high with bedding, clothes and other items she’d accumulated during Harvey duty. Smiling, she waved to her father who was parked outside, waiting to take her home.
Porter greeted the man as he stepped out of his car to help his daughter load her things.
“He was beaming,” she says, “and so proud.”
Porter thanked him for his daughter’s service.
“Then he thanked me for taking care of his daughter and giving her this opportunity,” Porter recalls. “I was thanking him, he was thanking me … so much kindness, caring and gratefulness. That’s what being a nurse is all about.”