Healthcare facilities in the U.S. continue to fall short in disaster planning and preparedness. This lack of preparation creates the potential for serious ramifications, putting staff, patients, and the financial security of the hospital, at risk.

Below are five key components to an effective emergency management plan. The use of information technology in achieving these components is not always obvious, but it’s clear that IT has a role to play in improving facilities’ disaster preparation.

Clear communication
In the past, it’s often been a natural reaction for organizations to try to withhold information from the public. This is the wrong approach. Healthcare facilities can prove their worth to their communities by being open and honest. In today’s world, information will leak out one way or another, so it’s essential the public gets the correct information from the healthcare experts instead of the wrong information from someone else.

During a disaster, everyone inside the organization needs to be informed. To effectively manage an emergency, all personnel must be on the same page—medical, legal, government affairs and facilities management, among others, have to understand what’s going on. IT-enabled communication, particularly when regularly used systems are down, can become crucial.

Comprehensive training
Your facility may not face an emergency situation for many years. While there is no substitute for the real thing, training is vital to ensuring your staff is as prepared as possible.

Another important factor to consider when implementing a training plan is community involvement. Healthcare facilities may assume they will have the full cooperation of local ambulance services, police and fire departments, but those agencies often have other responsibilities in the event of a natural disaster. Establishing their role during training is essential to emergency management preparations.

Knowledge of assets
Naturally, many people panic in the face of disaster. This places a heavy burden on government agencies and other local resources to provide relief for people dealing with a large-scale emergency. Hospitals cannot depend on outside help. It is imperative that healthcare facilities take stock of their assets in order to understand capabilities and limitations ahead of any natural disaster.

Technology fail-safes and protocol
IT bears a responsibility in enabling continued availability to medical records. What happens when a disaster occurs and knocks the software systems offline or blocks access to records? How will the hospital operate? Unfortunately, healthcare facilities often wait until a disaster before trying to find a solution to loss of access to records, losing precious time in the process. A business continuity plan helps to identify the hardware, software, space and other resources that each area of a facility requires to remain operational. It is crucial to recognize these needs to develop alternative solutions before any of the requirements are disrupted by disaster.

Healthcare leadership Involvement
Every hospital is focused on patient healing and safety. Occasionally, disaster preparedness is seen as a secondary pursuit. However, the ability to keep a facility open and treating patients during a disaster is an enormous asset to the community.

Healthcare facility leadership must understand the importance of a strong emergency management program and devote the proper resources towards disaster preparations. Employees with disaster response experience are vital pieces of the emergency management process—they keep facilities from spiraling out of control. More importantly, they enable a hospital to continue functioning and generating revenue. An effective emergency management department is a valuable insurance policy.

A natural disaster can wreak havoc on an entire community in an instant. If a healthcare facility is not equipped to respond, it can lose the community’s trust as well as a significant revenue stream. Expert emergency management is essential to the safety of staff, patients, and the hospital’s financial security, and preparation is key.

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Scott Cormier

Scott Cormier

Scott Cormier is the vice president of emergency management, environment of care and safety at Medxcel Facilities Management.