In the healthcare industry, many organizations have disaster preparedness plans set in place theoretically, however, the real issue is integration as well as ensuring the plan is understood throughout the whole organization. Additionally, given the nature of the work, very rarely do healthcare groups have the opportunity to measure disaster plans against national standards. This makes it difficult to understand their true efficacy before an emergency arises.
Disaster comes in many forms
When COVID-19 hit the country in 2020, many establishments were left struggling to react – especially the healthcare sector. Many of the lessons learned during the global emergency proved that hospitals and healthcare facilities were clearly not ready for the intensity, duration and lack of resources during the pandemic. Although the threat of COVID-19 has begun to subside, imminent threats such as climate change, natural disasters, terrorism, and other unexpected events can occur at any time.
Disaster preparedness is something very few people are actually ready for. September is National Preparedness Month in the U.S., which is intended to raise awareness about the importance of being prepared for disasters and emergencies that can occur at any time.
What does disaster preparedness mean?
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), disaster preparedness means having a contingency plan in place that will allow organizations to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Disasters can come in the form of epidemics/pandemics, technological and biological hazards, natural disasters and more. Being able to properly forecast the event of a disaster and react before it strikes is the best form of planning – this involves constantly monitoring, drilling, and updating your plan to meet the changing world and advancing technology.
Disaster preparedness means more than just having a plan in place. It is being truly prepared to take action on that plan. In addition, it involves implementing the right and most efficient steps that will protect your physical organization, employees, patients, customers and all their related data. Not only is a disaster preparedness plan important for your organization, but also for the community as healthcare settings like hospitals are always essential for saving lives, providing medical care and housing displaced people. Having a plan is great, however, being able to follow through with it when the time comes is what will ultimately save lives.
How can healthcare facilities successfully deploy a disaster preparedness plan?
With the right preparation, all healthcare institutions, regardless of their size, can ensure their staff, patients, community and personal information is properly protected. There are multiple areas in which disaster planning can be managed, including preparedness, mitigation response and recovery. For many institutions across multiple industries, being properly prepared for a disaster is not second nature. It is something that requires careful training, planning and expert management. Don’t assume your team will know what to do when disaster strikes. There are many, many resources available that can help streamline disaster planning.
Utilize as many resources as you need to feel completely confident and prepared.
The internet is full of valuable resources that healthcare managers can review and utilize in their disaster preparedness planning. Some of these include:
- The US Department of Homeland Security provides multiple resources for businesses, especially healthcare professionals in the US. This site provides resources and tools for supporting those preparing response activities for the event of a disaster, which could include attacks in public places, power outages, flooding, drought and more.
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has its Healthcare Preparedness and Response website as well as Public Health Preparedness Resources for anyone working in public health and other healthcare settings. There are even specific features geared towards clinicians. The CDC also regularly updates their Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) with emergencies and other information currently occurring related to outbreaks, disasters, terrorism, etc.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) features its ASPR TRACIE website which is specifically geared towards all those working in healthcare, from providers to practitioners, ensuring they are properly ready and prepared for any event of disaster or emergency.
Plan a structured and easy-to-implement procedure of activities.
In healthcare settings especially, a disaster or emergency likely will cause confusion and chaos which often leads to mistakes being made – mistakes that can lead to the loss of lives. Developing a structured plan — step-by-step instructions – of who will be responsible for what activity when an emergency comes will ensure everything runs smoothly and everyone remains calm. This can include setting up a leader on each shift who will control the focus of the activities and delegate accordingly.
Guarantee all data is properly protected and backed up.
If a particularly extensive data breach occurs or your healthcare networks are attacked by a virus or other malicious activity, this is considered an emergency. Your patient information is required by law to be properly protected. It is critical that you install, manage, and continually update your security infrastructure like antivirus software, data backup systems and intrusion defense systems to ensure they are keeping every piece of information secure and away from unauthorized access.
Invest in disaster preparedness training.
Providing time and access to a number of training resources will ensure your entire staff is ready for an emergency event. The federal government provides multiple resources for emergency management for any industry or level of responsibility.
- The CDC offers the Emergency Preparedness and Response: Training and Education courses.
- The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) offers its own Emergency Preparedness and Response as well.
- FEMA offers free courses that anyone who qualifies (must be public-facing) can do online for free through the virtual learning platform called the Emergency Management Institute (EMI).
Disaster recovery is important too.
Being prepared for a disaster also means being ready to recover as swiftly as possible in the aftermath of an emergency. Having a proper data backup system, that ideally stores the data off-site, in place will help your organization minimize losses as well as the trust of your patients. The sooner you can get back to normal operations, the sooner your healthcare facility can begin helping the community recover as well.
How can Tangible Solutions help?
Tangible solutions can help you understand what you need to protect your organization against a variety of disasters. Whether that involves moving your data to a cloud solution or hardening your own hosted data systems — Tangible Solutions can help. Reach out for a conversation with a member of our expert team today.