Approximately 98% of presidentially declared disasters are weather related, leading to approximately 500 deaths and $15 billion in damages annually. When disaster strikes a community, the healthcare facility is a crucial asset in the response and recovery of the community.
The first step in ensuring your facility is prepared is to get an understanding of your assets, vulnerabilities, as well as community vulnerabilities and their emergency plans.
Below are 4 questions you should ask:
- What are the emergency preparedness plans for other healthcare facilities in the community?
- What are the local government emergency preparedness plans?
- How many off-site locations fall under your emergency plan?
- How would your clinical and nonclinical staff react if technology was no longer an option?
In healthcare, emergency management may be a stand-alone function, or an additional duty of a facility manager, nurse manager, or administrator. During a response, it is imperative that all groups within the healthcare organization work together to respond to a disaster and recovery from the effects. Lack of knowledge of the entities can lead to confusion and miscommunication. When creating the emergency preparedness plan for your facility it is important that you ask those questions and learn to become part of a network of resources.
Foundation of a solid emergency preparedness plan:
No one wants to think about the worst case scenario, however, when planning you must think about the worst disaster that might affect your community and plan accordingly. There is no way you can anticipate and plan every detail of every type of disaster; however, thinking through the steps you would need to take and the resources you might need in the event a disaster occurs will put you in a better position to manage and recover from an event.
In the planning stage, revisit those 4 questions asked earlier in this article. Connect with other healthcare facilities and your local government on what their plans are – this will only help you build a stronger plan for your healthcare facility and in turn, for your community.
2.Processes & Procedures:
Once you have completed the planning stage, the second step is to develop processes and procedures for staff to follow in the event of a disaster. This includes communication during a disaster, safe zones for each area of a healthcare facility and how to ensure patients are moved into safety. With processes in place, the chances are things will go a lot smoother and recovery will be easier.
3.Updating, Maintaining, Training & Practicing:
Sometimes you know a crisis is coming. We call those “disasters with notice.” Others hit unexpectedly. Either way, it is crucial to update response plans and procedures on a regular basis, and revisit them frequently to train and practice for any scenario you might be faced with. With ongoing training of staff, they will be better prepared to guide visitors and patients to safety.
For foreseeable disasters, it’s important not to assume all is under control because a plan is in place and you’ve faced a similar scenario before. Conditions change, sometimes with catastrophic ramifications. Following the same methodical approach as if you were encountering the situation for the first time helps you spot red flags early and increase your accuracy.
With hurricanes, for example, we start planning five days out before landfall. At that time, the direction the hurricane can go is pretty wide, so we plan for a wide area. As it narrows and gets closer to the coast, we narrow our focus. We’ve tackled plenty of hurricanes, but never presume we know how it will develop, nor wait to find out.
For disasters without notice, like tornadoes or earthquakes, you’ll need a strong response mechanism in place, able to deploy assets instantaneously. In any case, your team must be ready 24/7 for whatever may come.
In the past, hospitals tried to hold back information that was unpleasant or embarrassing. We now live in a world where you can’t keep a secret. You have the opportunity to shape the narrative, build consensus, and give each of your audiences (patients, clinicians, facilities team, legal, supply chain, and so on) accurate information from the get-go, so they don’t speculate, spread half-truths or make decisions based on bad intel.
Communicate early, openly and often, and you’ll save everyone a lot of pain—including yourself.