How hospitals prepare for community disasters
New Braunfels Community Emergency Response Team volunteers use props to simulate traumatic amputations as part of a mass casualty drill at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital - New Braunfels. Photo Credit: New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung.
When disasters strike, hospitals respond. Incidents create sick and injured patients (and their family), the worried well seeking safety, patients evacuated from other hospitals, medically sensitive community members whose medical devices require power and water and the normal emergency cases like heart attacks. We must be ready even though our facilities are damaged and our staff experience disaster-related challenges.
With so many disasters impacting the US and the media attention around health care threats such as Ebola, regulators insist that hospitals maintain a robust Emergency Management (EM) program. To manage this, some hospitals hire a professional Emergency Manager (a niche in the EM profession that is just emerging). Others use a Nurse, Facility Manager, Administrator or a committee. Despite those differences, the preparedness objectives are uniform across hospitals.
The San Antonio Fire Department teaches CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital - Westover Hills Associates how to extinguish small fires.
Every hospital must have an Emergency Operations Plan with Hospital Incident Command System roles, patient management, redundant communications (ham radio, etc.), logistics, media relations, etc., pre-planned. This plan is exercised during two annual drills that must meet three objectives: drill with community responders, stress the Emergency Department and simulate operating for 96 hours without outside resources. After these drills, performance improvement plans are developed and plan changes are made. All of these activities center on the annual Hazard Vulnerability Analysis which ranks risks ranging from pandemics to terrorism and is prioritized with help from local Offices of Emergency Management or their Regional Advisory Council. Staff are required to be trained to fulfill their disaster roles which range from decontamination to WEBEOC to evacuation device techniques. This creates the familiar EM cycle of planning, preparing, exercising, evaluating, training, responding and recovering.
Now, more than ever, it is very important that hospitals and community EM stakeholders work together to ensure that the community is resilient, including the vital health care sector.
The Children's Hospital of San Antonio practices evacuating neonates (including their medical equipment) to and from the facility using the Southwest TX Regional Advisory Council for Trauma Ambulance Bus (Ambus).
Christus Santa Rosa Hospital - Medical Center Associates practice patient HAZMAT Decontamination.