Medical Center Disaster Planning – 5 Ways to Prepare

When you work in a hospital or other medical center, you have systems in place to handle a wide variety of healthcare issues and events, ranging from relatively small patient concerns to life and death situations. The same should be true when pre-planning for a physical plant disaster. With careful disaster planning, preparation and training, your staff will feel confident that they can meet these challenges.

As manager of a healthcare facility, your responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of employees, patients, visitors, and others probably includes disaster preparation. One important part of preparing for disasters is to know ahead of time what firm you will turn to for help with restoration efforts should the unexpected happen.

Five additional considerations to better prepare your facility for an unforeseen disaster are:

1. Fire Drills

  • A medical center disaster plan must include regular fire drills. Ensuring that your patients and employees know what to do if an unexpected fire occurs will help minimize the potential for injuries. Drills should be performed on all shifts and at varying times during the shift.
  • Because you never know when a fire might break out, conducting fire drills at random is one effective way to practice response actions. Scheduled fire drills are also useful for keeping people accustomed to the idea of what to do when they hear the alarm and to remind them of the importance of always being vigilant.

2. Sandbags for Flood Preparation

  • If your facility has experienced surface water flooding in the past or is in an area that has a potential for flooding, it’s important to plan ahead for rising waters. Without disaster planning for cases of severe weather, your facility may quickly become unusable. Sand is usually readily available but, sandbags (empty) take time to order, ship and receive. Consider maintaining a stockpile of sandbags to give you the option of damming the points of water entry to help keep water from getting inside your building.
  • In cases where the water exposure is just too large to blockade, be sure to have a restoration partner you can call upon that is trustworthy, reliable, and experienced to quickly extract water and address all of your medical facility needs (day or night).

3. Earthquake Education

  • Although earthquakes are relatively rare in the U.S., the 2011 earthquake affecting Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC quickly reminded facility managers of the very real threat this type of disaster poses. If there is any potential for earthquakes in your area, it’s a good idea for you to include earthquake education in your disaster plan. Without proper training, those unfamiliar with what it’s like to be in a major earthquake may quickly become so frightened and disoriented that they become a liability to themselves and others.
  • Underscore the basics of earthquake responsiveness, such as moving away from windows to prevent injury from falling glass, standing in a doorway or hiding under a sturdy table.

4. Evacuation Team Leaders

  • Assign leaders to handle the logistics of evacuating patients and workers should the need to occur during a disaster. Establish a system to identify patients with special needs in advance to ensure their continuing care is fully considered.
  • One example of an evacuation consideration that can be mitigated in advance is the use of battery-operated medical equipment. Ensure that backup batteries are charged, maintained and available in case evacuation takes longer than anticipated.

5. Data Backup

  • Many medical facilities are growing increasingly aware of the need to maintain backups of their patient data. It’s important that your IT department makes regular backups of patient records and other information (typically at least once a day). Keep in mind that if you keep your backups in the same facility as the original data, you are at greater risk of losing all of your information during a crisis.
  • It’s therefore prudent to set up a secure system for offsite backups. You can arrange for a service with a cloud computing services provider. Make sure to work with one that has special training in managing data security (including HIPAA privacy requirements) for offsite data storage. When a disaster strikes and wipes out local copies of your data, you’ll be able to download copies of this information from the cloud and get back up and running fairly quickly.

Obviously there are many more considerations to be made but, with advanced preparation and planning, your staff will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they are doing their part to keep your facility, patients, visitors, and staff safe during a disaster.

About the Author: Jay Hughitt
Jay Hughitt is a project director at Interstate with more than 26 years’ experience in the restoration and construction industry. He has extensive experience in healthcare facilities oversight previously working as VP of Construction for a large national healthcare chain. Jay holds numerous professional certifications including: ASHE Certified Healthcare Contractor and OSHA 30-hour Construction Safety and Health Certification.