How to Prepare for a Hurricane or Other Disaster
As news of Hurricane Irene dominates the news it is difficult not to think of how one prepares for a disaster. Those of us in healthcare have to be concerned about individual safety and the welfare of family' but we have the obligation of being expected to take care of others-patients-as well. In fact those most affected by the disaster will be looking to us for help.
All along the east coast I am sure hospitals, including laboratories, have been meeting to review and rehearse their Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP). An EPP is often called a disaster plan because it outlines how to cope with any disaster- an unplanned event that could cause damage, death, injury or severe disruption of routine services.
Labs will be checking supplies and blood inventory, updating their emergency contact list and reminding staff that those on duty if (or when) the hurricane hits will be expected to remain on duty until relieved by other staff. They might be soliciting volunteers and deliberately "over-staffing" to ensure enough laboratorians on duty at all times.
Whatever the details of the planning, it is important to be prepared for the unplanned, the unexpected and to make sure the following four elements are addressed.
Reduce vulnerability. That means doing whatever is necessary to avoid the disaster if possible and coping if/when it strikes. This includes making environmental changes, consolidating resources and ensuring there is sufficient resilience to bounce back or return to business as soon as possible after the event.
Integrate laboratory in key planning. The lab must be included in any organizational plans. The lab must decide on issues like operating a smaller core lab with a limited menu, being included in regular briefings and the like. The lab is a crucial element of any emergency and must demand to be treated as such.
Ensure adequate resources are available. There must be enough supplies, reagents, competent staff, blood inventory and the like to offer the critically important services of diagnosis and treatment that will be required.
Communication. Roles and responsibilities must be clearly spelled out before the emergency occurs. Those who have a "need to know" must be kept in the loop and briefed throughout the entire emergency. Communication must be both inter and intradepartmental. A list of telephone numbers of staff, administration, local, state and federal agencies should be readily available. Partner with other labs to share resources or cover for each other as needed. If evacuation or relocation is needed, everyone should know the how, when and where beforehand. This is one time when TMI (too much information) is really a good thing.
Incidentally, these same priority areas can be applied (with minor adjustments) to individual preparations at home as well. Preparation might not avert a disaster or other emergency, but it sure does make one feel more confident and empowered. It also makes coping and bouncing back much easier.
To all my colleagues up and down the east coast: please be safe.