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Disaster Preparedness - What we learned from Sandy and Katrina

par Philip F. Jacobus, CEO | August 28, 2015
Donal Teahan
From the August 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

When it comes to disaster preparedness one must hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Hospital personnel may not believe the “worst case scenario” would happen to their facility, but they need to have plans in place in case it does.

Leon Zebrick, director of molecular imaging at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, and Donal Teahan, director of practice management at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, shared recommendations on how to prepare for a disaster and how to get back up and running quickly after a disaster.

Ochsner and NYU Langone both experienced the destructive effects of a major hurricane. In 2005, Ochsner was hit with Hurricane Katrina, which was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, and in 2012, NYU Langone was struck with Hurricane Sandy. But thanks to both medical centers’ planning and preparation, they were well equipped to handle the disasters. We can only hope that disasters like those don’t happen to your hospitals, but in case they do, Zebrick and Teahan have some advice to share.

What advice would you give a hospital on how to prepare for a disaster?
Donal Teahan: While you never dream of the worst case scenario, you must prepare for it by putting together a response plan. In my opinion, the worst case would be loss of power because without power, everything else starts to break down. Almost all employees have to be familiar with an evacuation plan so when the time comes, they react instinctively. This is why dry runs of your plan are important. NYU Langone was able to evacuate 17 floors of our hospital during Hurricane Sandy in less than 12 hours, all without electricity. Leon Zebrick: Contact and coordinate with state and local officials. Make sure all employees know their designation (Team “A,” Team “B”) — Team A comes in during the disaster, Team B relieves Team A and so on. Have a means of communicating with all employees via “broadcast” texts to their mobile devices (software applications for this purpose are readily available).

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How can you prepare the staff for a disaster?
DT: Our culture is all about taking care of the patient. This has to be the number one goal even during a disaster but the number two goal is getting the hospital up and running again. If your staff is well prepared and well trained then they are focused and know exactly what they have to do. If they are not, it breeds insecurity and that’s when you have problems. You need strong leadership and a strong focus. People have to understand what needs to be done and they must know that if they make decisions, those decisions are supported. The staff needs to know that they own it because then you will get back up more quickly. In addition, we made arrangements for some of our employees to work from home when they could. Because we knew the hurricane was coming, we made arrangements for lodging and we had food on hand to feed our staff.

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