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4 Tips for Your Hospital Disaster Plan

Career News August 27, 2013

There’s nothing more frightening than the idea of a hospital being hit with a catastrophe, but with a proper hospital disaster plan, the danger even the more serious emergency can be reduced. In any kind of disaster, doctors, nurses patients and administrators need to be well-trained and prepared to respond. While each hospital’s disaster plan will be unique and tailored to that particular institution, there are a few key elements that will be in every plan and a few common concerns that affect all hospitals. For instance, all hospitals need to be prepared for at least two different types emergencies–those where the hospital is compromised and needs to be shut down and/or evacuated, and those where the hospital receives a high volume of patients who were injured in an emergency elsewhere. Regardless of the type of emergencies a particular hospital may need to prepare for, here are four general tips to help with formulating a hospital disaster plan:

Don’t Get Overwhelmed by Details

When one first looks at constructing a disaster plan for a large institution like a hospital, it would be easy for them to be disheartened by the daunting task of addressing every detail that needs to be addressed. One might think about whether or not computers need be secured in an evacuation to prevent patient data from being accessed, or where sand bags might be obtained to control the spread of water in a flood. These are important things to consider, but details like these can bog down the emergency planning process early on. It is best to start with a “Bare bones” generic emergency plan and then add the details later, if necessary. Sometimes those details might even end up being broken out into departmental emergency plans. For instance the institutional disaster plan may say “IT department secures the computers, if necessary,” and the IT department will later write their own plan explaining under what circumstances the computers are secured and how it will be done.

Include as Much Redundancy as Possible

Many hospital disaster plans will include lines like “All nurses, patients and other staff will move to shelter when ‘Code Grey’ is called over the P.A. System.” The problem comes in when the P.A. system goes out before or during the emergency. While it’s not necessary to list every possible contingency for every instruction in the disaster plan, it is important to at least think through the possible secondary instructions and list the most important ones.

Address Key Emergency Response Personnel by Title, Not Name

Every hospital experiences a certain amount of turnover in their workforce, and just because “Bob” as been in charge of maintenance for 8 years, it doesn’t mean he will be in charge when the massive five day power outage hits. One way to keep this from being an issue in the hospital disaster plan is to address specific duties by title, instead of by name. For instance, instead of saying “Sally will secure the med room,” the plan could say “The charge nurse on the floor will secure the med room.”

Address “Return to Normal Operations” in the Emergency Response Plan

One often-overlooked area of an emergency response plan is what to do when the emergency is over. First and foremost, it should be clearly spelled out under what conditions that people can return safely to work. It should also be clear in the plan who makes this determination. Other additions to the plan could include important follow-up activity, such as grief counseling for those who witness tragedy or traumatic events or “Recap meetings” to determine how future emergencies could be handled more efficiently.

Disasters happen everywhere, to every type of institution, and hospitals,unfortunately, are not immune. A good hospital disaster plan can be the key to getting through an emergency with minimal injury, damage and disruption. By keeping details under control, including redundancies, delineating duties by position and including an “after” plan, a disaster plan creator can create an effective plan with minimal wasted effort.

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