Heidi P. Cordi, MD: Does Your Hospital Have a Disaster Plan in Place in the Event of an Emergency?

Dr. Heidi P. Cordi, MDHospitals can face a variety of adverse events ranging from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and pandemics, to human-caused catastrophes such as terrorist and cybersecurity attacks.

Disasters in and around a hospital can have a huge impact on the facility, its employees, and even the communities they serve. Hospitals must be able to handle the additional surge of patients and care for the ill and injured while still trying to run their daily operations. Lessons learned over the past few decades demonstrate that hospitals must also prepare for the worst, especially disasters that may have a widespread impact. Reviewing past disasters can provide insight into effective disaster planning. However, with limited resources, hospitals must focus on disasters that would most likely occur.

Hospital disaster preparedness can be complex. Planning helps to manage a crisis by anticipating the range of potential issues, such as medication shortages and power outages. Reviewing lessons learned from other disasters allows planners to better manage the unforeseen impacts. Ultimately, the goal of a hospital disaster plan is to ensure readiness to continue daily operations while treating a surge of people requiring medical attention.

Key Elements of a Hospital Disaster Plan

All hospitals should have a Hospital Emergency Operations Plan, and it should be updated regularly. There are six key elements that every hospital plan should address, according to the Joint Commission:

  • Communications
  • Clinical and support activities
  • Resources and assets
  • Safety and security
  • Staff responsibilities
  • Utilities

Once a hospital disaster plan is created, practice is imperative. It ensures that everyone involved is familiar with the process of moving through the crisis. Staging disaster preparedness drills biannually is also a requirement enforced by accrediting bodies like the Joint Commission and the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Exercises must be thoughtfully considered and can be implemented in a variety of ways such as table-top and field exercises. It is challenging, maybe almost impossible, to test the entire plan. But having well-formulated objectives helps to streamline disaster operations. Without planning and preparation, it will be challenging to manage the patient surge. A well-implemented hospital disaster plan saves lives.

Dr. Heidi P. Cordi, MD, FACEP, FAADM is a board-certified physician in disaster medicine by the American Board of Disaster Medicine, a Member Board of the American Board of Physician Specialties® (ABPS).

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