September is National Preparedness Month, a time to revisit and renew plans for emergencies and other disruptive events. As we have witnessed in the past few years, disasters have occurred frequently throughout the United States, and no organization is completely immune to them. However, with preparedness, leaders can be ready to move quickly and stay ahead of the curve when disaster strikes.
With that in mind, explore what can leaders do to ensure healthcare disaster preparedness today and into the future.
What is National Preparedness Month?
So, what is National Preparedness Month, and what makes it so important for healthcare leaders? First held in 2004, National Preparedness Month seeks to inform Americans about the need for disaster planning everywhere. From natural disasters and new disease strains to terrorism and cyberattacks, today’s list of crisis-level events is a long one. Moreover, for today’s leaders of healthcare facilities, they require constant vigilance and proactive planning.
Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the campaign includes everything from public education to emergency preparation workshops. Managed by FEMA’s Ready Campaign, National Preparedness Month “culminates on September 30th with National Preparedness Day, the national day of action,” explains the National Weather Service (NWS).
The campaign also leverages resources and expertise from the Ad Council in its mission to “educate and empower Americans” to “prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies.” Especially for leaders of healthcare organizations, National Preparedness Month offers an ideal opportunity to boost the readiness of every facility. With that in mind, here are a few tips for doing exactly that.
5 Tips for Healthcare Disaster Preparedness for National Preparedness Month
#1: Update Your Disaster Plan
First chosen as National Preparedness Month because of 9/11, September is an ideal time for revisiting healthcare disaster preparedness. Not only does it occur within hurricane and wildfire seasons, but it’s also a time to prepare for winter vaccination efforts. And while some events may be tough to predict, taking some universal precautions can help give you a better chance to withstanding whatever happens.
The list of items in a successful disaster plan is a long one, from full documentation of assets to critical backups and rapid response initiatives. While they’ll vary for every facility and organization, every plan should cover the following list, according to the authors of a 2020 survey of disaster leadership published in the Journal of Radiology Nursing (JRL):
- A formal response system for all sentinel events
- Proactive communications plans to ensure organized response and combat rumors
- Specific emergency alert protocols throughout each facility
- Access to emergency tools and safety resources needed by clinical staff
- Security measures for the protection of patients, staff, and visitors
- The flexibility to make real-time updates
- Plans for “safe transfers, evacuations, shelter in place, assign roles and duties, clear communication”
- Periodic drilling to improve reactions, and open discussion of how it went and what needs to be done
“A best practice is to have a ‘backup plan’ as no two disaster responses will ever be the same,” the authors add.
> Action item: Double-check your current plan with our disaster preparedness checklist
#2: Check in with Government Agencies
True healthcare disaster preparedness requires syncing with governmental authorities like FEMA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And every disaster plan should be built upon the guidelines of FEMA’s National Incident Management System and National Response Framework.
Leaders should also confirm their contact with the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) that helps organizations prepare with trainings, exercises and other initiatives. The HSS also offers the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), the “only source of federal funding for health care system readiness.”
Each of these entities has protocols to help ensure continuity of care during crisis-level events. They can help improve and support prevention and management strategies, and help speed governmental funds and assistance when needed.
> Action item: Make sure you’re aligned with FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework
#3: Work on Developing Crisis Management Skills
Disaster planning goes hand in hand with crisis management. The process of preparing for, and dealing with, catastrophic events, crisis management ensures the successful execution of a disaster plan. And leaders can develop their expertise in this important area by honing specific skills like adaptability, communication, and the ability to project confidence.
“During a disaster event, it is essential for leaders to set the tone for their team and reach the highest levels of performance possible by all involved,” write the JRL study authors. “Recognize that you are always on stage: Role model respect, portray calm and empathy for all others.”
> Action item: Review our checklist of must-have crisis management skills for healthcare leaders
#4: Engage and Coordinate with Your Community
Disaster recovery is always a community-wide event. By supporting the areas they operate in, healthcare organizations can help ensure cooperation during emergencies. And this can make all the difference when it comes to keeping open supply and communication, accessing volunteer efforts, and other important considerations.
The National Weather Service recommends connecting with Citizen Corps, as well as volunteer groups like CERT, Red Cross, and the American Radio Relay League. The HHS also offers the emPOWER Map, an interactive tool to help guide emergency planning across a community, and a “Health Security Activity Guide” that outlines specific ways to improve health security across an entire community.
> Action item: Check out the full list of suggested volunteer organizations at the NWS website
#5: Improve Your Workforce Flexibility
An essential step in healthcare disaster preparedness is ensuring that each facility has reliable access to backup workers. Many of the government-led groups mentioned above offer emergency volunteer networks and other resources for exactly that reason. However, leaders may rest more comfortably with additional backup plans to shore up staffing gaps in the event of a crisis.
Larger hospital systems may be able to leverage their own labor pool to assist when a disaster is limited to a specific area. However, given the ongoing nurse shortage, even these large networks may be hard pressed to cover when a large-scale crisis strikes. For that reason, organizations of all sizes increasingly rely on the assistance of third-party workforce solutions providers.
When it comes to disaster readiness, smart leadership means taking every available precaution. And developing a working relationship with a nationwide workforce solutions provider is an effective and economic way to do just that. The best options will provide a network of contingency workers available for crisis staffing, in addition to managed services (MSPs) to deliver even greater flexibility.
> Action item: Learn more about crisis staffing services and other workforce solutions from CareerStaff
Boost Your Healthcare Disaster Preparedness with CareerStaff
Need expertise in healthcare disaster preparedness? At CareerStaff, we’re proud to offer workforce solutions to help healthcare organizations of all types weather emergencies and extreme events. Our award-winning, Joint Commission-Certified services are customizable to meet the needs of most healthcare employers, large and small. You can learn more about our solutions here, or get started by requesting staff now.