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How To Prepare Your Hospital For Severe Weather Emergencies

A recent survey by Health Facilities Management revealed that more than half of all participating hospitals experienced a weather-related emergency within the last year. Of these, most found that their emergency preparedness plans fell short in practice. During a natural disaster, your hospital can end up short staffed, without backup power or – in the worst-case scenario – being forced to evacuate the building. Experts advise that it’s prudent to prepare for the worst, and to remain adaptable, since multiple challenges may arise from a single weather crisis.

Hurricanes, wildfires and flash floods are just some of the severe weather emergencies that can compromise a hospital’s ability to care for its patients in a thorough, yet efficient manner. Simultaneously, your healthcare facility may be the first place victims go in search of help, putting even more pressure on your staff. As patients flood in to find care and current clients face the risk of necessary evacuation, the primary concern is always the same: How can you address an emergency without compromising patient safety and care? Fortunately, emergency responders and volunteers may be able to offer support in a time of crisis, but pre-planning is key to fielding unforeseen challenges efficiently.

Backup Generators

Nearly everything in your hospital relies on electricity: from the plastic bracelets you scan to confirm patient admission to the automatic doors through which patients leave once they are dismissed. During a standard power outage, the building’s backup generator should be powerful enough to handle the workload. In the event of a natural disaster, your hospital faces an even greater need for reliable power, but the risk of malfunction is also greater during this time, too. During Hurricane Sandy, hospitals learned that they couldn’t rely on a single basement backup generator, as many were destroyed by the torrents of floodwater that consumed them. Here are a few important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Do you have enough fuel for several days of outage?
  • Is your generator located in an area that could sustain damage?
  • Have you tested your generator often?
  • Do you have extra generators in other locations in case the main one malfunctions?

Communications and Recordkeeping

Without electricity, or with limited phone and wireless Internet service, your hospital will be forced to run much less efficiently than before. Staff will feel this acutely if there’s a patient surge and no protocol for how to process information without access to electronic records. There’s no time to waste during an emergency, when every second matters. Doctors and nurses must be prepared to handwrite medical information and scripts. It’s important to have a practiced plan of action, and maintain open and active communication among employees, patients and outside emergency responders during this time.

Stock up on Supplies

To deal with the influx of patients and the change in routine/access to your normal supply chain, have a stockpile of supplies that is fortified against natural elements, but easy to access in case of an emergency. Often, in times of crises, hospitals can rely on other health care facilities to equip them with crucial medical equipment and general supplies. Here are a few essentials to make sure your facility has on hand:

  • Reliable electricity
  • Clean water
  • Medical supplies
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Food

Staff Shortages

Dangerous weather and debris can prevent some of your most dedicated employees from making it to the hospital. Even if you’re only short staffed by a couple of workers, it can make a critical difference when it comes to saving lives and handling the additional complications that arise during a crisis. Have a plan to tap into volunteer resources and emergency staff, who will need to be debriefed on your clearly outlined emergency procedures and protocol. Management or designated employees should keep the lines of communication open and field questions, instructing staff and volunteers on daily responsibilities, along with any new information or procedural changes that may arise. Defer recordkeeping tasks to volunteers and emergency crews.

Containing Infection

If disastrous weather has destroyed some of your health care facilities, you may have to implement a shelter-in-place structure to accommodate patient surge and to contain infection and chaos. This will increase your patient capacity and allow doctors and nurses to prioritize and treat critical patients. Plan far in advance for how to handle this type of scenario, if it should arise.

Bill Robinson is the Vice President of Operations for DKI Commercial Solutions.

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