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What’s Your Disaster Preparedness Plan?

We may not all have to cope with volcanic eruptions the way Hawaii recently has, but natural disasters, infectious disease epidemics, workplace violence, mass-casualty events like transportation accidents and other emergency scenarios can occur at any time. These types of incidents affect healthcare facilities and systems in several different ways. On the one hand, your hospital might need to provide services to community members affected by the disaster. On the other hand, the nature of the emergency might place your patients, staff or facility in danger, requiring you to evacuate or otherwise safeguard lives and property.

Last year, hurricanes Harvey and Irma required nimble responses from healthcare organizations throughout the Gulf Coast region. Since June 1 marks the start of the 2018 hurricane season, we thought we’d ask: What’s your plan for coping with natural disasters or other types of catastrophic events?

First step: have a plan

If this question leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Nearly 20 percent of respondents in a Medical Group Management Association Stat poll indicated their facility has no emergency preparedness plan for dealing with situations like a natural disaster or workplace violence event. As a nurse leader, you should make sure your organization not only has a plan for emergency activation but that it gets practiced regularly through drills.

Crafting a thorough, detailed emergency response plan can feel overwhelming, especially for small clinics or hospitals. Fortunately, you can get help from myriad organizations that offer tools ranging from checklists to full-blown plan templates. Start with the California Hospital Association’s comprehensive Hospital Activation of the Emergency Operations Plan Checklist, and then consult our resource list below.

Second step: consider communications needs

During a healthcare emergency, your first big decision may involve staffing. Should you call everyone in? Only certain people? Or, conversely, should you advise non-essential personnel to stay away from the facility temporarily?

Some types of healthcare emergencies require an “all hands on deck” approach to staffing. In situations with multiple casualties, for example, you may need to call in all available nurses and allied health professionals to help with triage, provide first aid and perform other tasks.

Software solutions like ShiftWizard make it easy to alert all staff in such a situation. With the touch of a button, you can send a communique via multiple channels – including email, text and voice – to reach the staff you need. If you only need nurses, for example, you can message just that group. In fact, you can drill down even further than that and alert only nurses assigned to a particular unit, if desired. If you need other staff, as well, you can reach them, too. This type of communication flexibility can help you quickly obtain additional clinical staff to deploy your emergency preparedness plan efficiently.

But what about the opposite scenario? What if the emergency is a blizzard that makes travel so hazardous you don’t want staff to report as scheduled? Technology solves that problem, too. Using the same communication features, you can employ ShiftWizard to advise groups or individuals of your revised reporting procedures. You can temporarily call off an entire population of staff, or you can compose a message designed to be sent to a small group of individuals.

And the communication capabilities of ShiftWizard do not need be confined to staffing. In an emergency, your top leadership can send status briefings and updates to staff quickly and in realtime in order to keep everyone apprised of how the situation is being handled.

Third step: practice, identify weaknesses and revise

An emergency preparedness plan should be considered a “living document” that is constantly being refined as new resources, collaborative partners and technology become available. On a unit level, your staff should review and revise the disaster plan at least once a year – and they should practice it more often than that. No plan will work if, in the moment an emergency strikes, the people in place don’t know how to implement it.

Holding emergency preparedness drills at the unit, facility and system level not only help ensure your organization will function effectively during a real crisis, but it allows you identify areas of weakness in the plan and revise accordingly. Many great ideas on paper prove difficult to implement in real life. By practicing your disaster plan, you can mitigate weaknesses in advance of a true emergency, whether it’s volcanic eruptions, hurricanes or some other type of event.

Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Resource List

Disaster Preparedness Materials Outline – American College of Emergency Physicians

Emergency Readiness Resource Links – American Hospital Association

Emergency Preparedness Tools – California Hospital Association


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