As threats evolve, many healthcare leaders ask us how they can shorten their response time and resolve emergencies faster. It’s a big question with complex answers. In this post, we focus on one foundational element of emergency response: communications.


Crises — whether natural, technological, or man-made — strike healthcare facilities more frequently than we‘d like to admit. News headlines regularly recount incidents of hospital shootings, weather disasters and power outages at healthcare facilities across the nation.  

As threats evolve, many healthcare leaders ask us how they can shorten their response time and resolve emergencies faster. It’s a big question with complex answers. In this post, we focus on one foundational element of emergency response: communications. 

Establishing your Communications Infrastructure  

Given what’s at risk during a disaster, your ability to respond effectively demands clear, accurate and rapid communications with all stakeholders. Modern conveniences like smartphones and social media can be both helpful and hurtful during a crisis, especially when people feel unsafe, or fear for the wellbeing of people they love.  

The reality is that our collective digital habit has created an expectation for instant updates that are relevant and actionable to each specific audience. To make that possible, your organization should establish an emergency communications infrastructure at both internal and external levels.  

You’ll also need to layer communications in various formats and channels — HAM radios, mass notification systems, digital signage, PA systems, and more — to make sure no intended recipient falls through the cracks when distractions, panic, malfunctions or other obstacles get in the way of them seeing or hearing your alerts. Be sure to also communicate in ways that can reach those who are visually impaired or hard of hearing. 

Enabling People at Risk to Make Good, Safe Decisions  

In a crisis, withholding information can backfire. In today’s world, information will leak out one way or another (accurate or not), and it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure the public gets correct information from you, versus speculation from another source like a scared patient or vendor. You and your organization can prove your worth to your community by being open and honest. 

It’s worth noting that the outdated notion that emergency alerts lead to panic is now thoroughly debunked. Studies tell us that instead of panicking, people who’ve just been told they’re at risk go into decision-making mode, and depriving them of information can be harmful.

Activating a Dedicated Communications Officer

Getting the communications piece right is a big job with big consequences. Your hospital should employ a dedicated public information officer to coordinate messages, create plans for internal communications, respond to media and community inquiries, and plan for various scenarios. Also, consider a social media specialist to monitor information being posted and release information pertinent to the community, patients, and staff.

Engaging Top Leadership 

Executive leaders at your facility must understand that disaster preparedness is no less impactful than the demands of day-to-day patient care, and they must devote adequate resources to such. An effective emergency management team is a critical insurance policy that keeps your organization from spiraling out of control. Those professionals enable your hospital to continue functioning, generating revenue, and avoiding losses you might not be able to recover from otherwise.  

No executive wants to get a call from a board member asking, “What’s going on? What’s this I’m reading on the news?” during a disaster. Not knowing your emergency management program, team, and what they’re doing won’t help you (or your career) during a crisis. 

Having your leaders read the emergency management and environment of care committee minutes is a good start. Those minutes are the next best thing to having everyone within the physical environment sitting around a table, discussing what they’ve done in the last month or quarter, and a great way to get a sense of what’s happening with patient safety, performance metrics, and emergency prep in the organization. 

Planning Now for your Next Emergency  

We hope your facility never experiences a devastating incident, but the best time to refine your emergency response is now, before the next crisis hits. Aside from the communications practices we’ve covered, other elements essential to efficient crisis resolution include training, preparing for essential and alternate assets, cultivating key partnerships, and more. You’ll find guidance on each of those practices (eight in total) in our white paper “Better Emergency Response: 8 Practices for Faster Crisis Resolution in Healthcare Environments”. Download the full white paper here.