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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

How to Prepare for a Hurricane or Other Disaster

Published August 26, 2011 11:39 PM by Glen McDaniel

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.

3 comments

We survived Irene, thank God. I was part of the lab team planning for the hurricane and we pretty much did all those things. Communication is really the key. you have to let everyone know your plans, exchange telephone numbers, who to call, where to meet and leave pretty much nothing to chance or guesswork. Everything should be by the book or the plan so to speak. We were not damaged but we also learned some lessons like getting in more supplies, more volunteers

Jonas B September 3, 2011 1:24 PM
Raleigh NC

Anon: I appreciate your concern for your family. Healthcare and emergency responders are a special breed; their work involves helping others even when their own circumstances could be compromised.

Employers really have  wide latitude about what they can legally require of employees. Your employee handbook or EPP might spell out who is considered essential in an emergency and how they are assigned. Common considerations are seniority, role  in the organization and clinical specialty, for example.

Your supervisor might be looking at whether the person who has volunteered to take your assignment has the same capabilities (e.g able to perform all the tasks required of you), will cost essentially the same and a host of other things.

There is also the issue of parity. That is to say if others have been assigned to work (or everyone takes turns being assigned to work) it might be disruptive to morale if you alone  are excused. Simply refusing to go in to work when assigned could also put your employment at risk.

You dont say where you are located and when Irene is expected to affect your area. However  without minimizing your concerns, I suggest you visit the FEMA website and make suggested arrangements for your family. Can they stay with family, are there  adequate supplies, water and nonperishable food to last at least 3 days?

Please share with us how this all turns out.

Glen McDaniel August 27, 2011 6:53 PM

That is good information. I have a situationa nd I am writing anonymously but I am sure my supervisor will recognize me if she reads this. I have young children and I am on the schedule to stand by for emergencies. As you can imagine this standby is rarely used because we dont have that many emergencies. I told my supervisor I can get someone else to work for me but she said no it's my assignment. I think this si so unfair because someone else agreed to work for me. I cannot leave my children to go in to work. I am just heartsick about this. Can a supervisor force you to come in when it is not your regular shift just an emergency shift. She wants everyone of the call in list (3 of us) to be at work.

Anonymous August 27, 2011 2:33 PM

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