October 3, 2016-It is one thing to plan for what you think will be a major incident in your community and then exercise that plan. It is another when it ends up being a terrorist incident resulting in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history that took place no more than .5 mile from your facility. So you may be asking what is it that I can learn from this incident to better prepare my healthcare system. Actually there is a lot that you can and should plan for:
When conducting your hazard vulnerability analysis, planning efforts, and/or updating your Emergency Operations Plans and CEMP think outside the box and take a look at what type of businesses and operations are taking place around your facility, not just within it. Is there a large transit station nearby, is there a mall, is there a chemical facility, or is there a night club? Being so close to the incident site was a good thing for the patients generated from the incident but it also posed unique challenges to our operations.
Based on the situation at hand, whether there are other hazards associated with the incident, and how close the incident is to your facility may dictate how patients will be brought or transported to your facility. Again, you must think outside the box and remember that patients may walk or run down the sidewalk to your facility, be brought in by personal vehicles, loaded onto pick-up truck beds on a continuous circle, or by EMS. Remember that mass casualty incident (MCI) triage tags are most typically syndicated with EMS transports and not the other modes that were mentioned.
As you probably know as with any emergency preparedness exercise or real incident there will always be communication issues. Plan ahead and think about what some of the issues may be so that you can try to resolve them now ahead of time. Just expect them to occur during a major incident, and do everything you can during your response efforts to try to remediate them.
Coordination and Collaboration
I cannot state enough how important it truly is to have a great working relationship with your community partners, and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs). If you don’t know or trust each other now during a “blue skies” type of day how will you ever work together with them during a real emergency? Most likely they won’t answer your phone call, text message, or email when disaster strikes. This is a continuous effort that cannot be overlooked. The FBI has a wonderful program called the FBI Citizen’s Academy. I am a graduate of the program and can tell you first-hand how beneficial it has been to not only me but our coordination efforts throughout the incident.
Training and Exercises
Emergency preparedness training and exercises are very important to any organization and cannot be undervalued or underutilized. Basically they are not simply a one-time initiative or a check in the box for regulatory or statutory compliance. As evidenced with the incident that occurred here, training and conducting realistic, plausible emergency preparedness exercises do save lives.
If a major incident occurs anywhere near your facility there will be major ramifications and impacts from the media to your facility, operations, and the people that work, receive care, or visit it. Efforts should be made now to try to lessen the impact they may have on your organization. Simply ignoring them is not even an answer in the book; think ahead now about how you will engage and work with them.