When Disaster Strikes, Will Your Facility Be Prepared?

Posted on October 11, 2017

The 2017 hurricane season has wreaked havoc across the Atlantic Ocean with a total of 13 named storms, five in which were ranked as a Category 3 or higher, and four that have made direct landfall on U.S. soil and, unfortunately, the season isn’t over yet. The destruction caused by these massive storms has forced many to re-evaluate their disaster preparedness plans and protocols. But when it comes down to it, hurricanes aren’t the only disasters that can strike - tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, floods, outbreaks of highly contagious diseases such as Ebola, and most recently, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV - can all have a powerful and violent impact of those in their wake. A majority of these disasters come within a moment’s notice and others can be prepared for in advance, but no matter the circumstances it is vital to have a plan in place to make sure that you are prepared to handle any crisis situation that might occur.  

We interviewed Curt Barringer, HHS Coastal Group and Senior Living President and head of the HHS Crisis Response Team (CRT), to gain exclusive insight into best practices that support service teams can use to prepare for any crisis situation.

What is a word of advice you would tell others about preparing for a crisis situation?

One of the most important things a facility can do to be prepared for any disaster is to establish a support team. Our Crisis Response Team (CRT), consists of team members who have volunteered to sit on the committee, which has 5 to 10 people at each partner facility, and are highly trained to handle multiple crisis situations.  Our CRT is made of an A and B team and provide each other with consistent support during a disaster.  Our A team is the first to arrive and stay in the hospital to make sure everything continues to run smoothly during the storm and our quality continues to meet and exceed standards. After the storm has passed, we relieve our first team and send in the B team to continue the processes as planned. Both these groups are extremely important to maintaining the proper function of a facility when disasters strike and moreover, they take the burden of worry away from the administrators by following the protocol in place.  It is paramount to make sure that those who have signed up to be on the CRT can make the travel and are 100% committed to their duties because, ultimately, they keep things running efficiently on our end whether that is culinary, environmental services, or facilities.

What are some key elements to ensure that operations remain smooth during disasters or crisis?

Every month, you should run through your CRT list and reach out to the volunteers to guarantee they are committed and capable of fulfilling their responsibilities to the team.  This removes the hassle of having to replace individuals last minute and allows our team to be efficient in executing their duties. Additionally, every disaster a facility is faced with is a learning experience. It allows us to reexamine our protocols and determine what worked well, what didn’t work, and how we can improve our processes to be better equipped to handle a disaster in the future.

Share some ways support service teams can be proactive in situations where they might not know when a disaster is going to hit.

The excellent thing is most hospitals are already thinking about crisis situations before a disaster even happens, and chances are they have already taken the appropriate precautions to ensure that their patients will still be able to receive care during an unforeseen incident.  Regarding our team, it is a requirement to have three days of food on hand in case of an emergency. This emergency stock of food needs to be non-refrigerated in case of a power outage.  Additionally, we make sure we have enough cleaning supplies to handle an influx of patients, which proved to be vital during the mass shooting in Las Vegas, as one of our hospitals served as a medical facility to the injured.

How do you communicate with your partners and leadership teams during a crisis situation?

During a disaster or while planning for one that is imminent, we hold conference calls with our leaders in the field. For instance, during the most recent hurricane situation, where we were able to prepare ahead of time, we held daily conference calls with our leadership teams who were in the cone of impact, then twice a day 24 hours in advance. Once the storm made landfall, we held a call every 6 hours. Then reversed those frequencies as the storm passed. The information discussed on the calls was thoroughly documented and shared with our partners, so they were aware of the preparations happening at their account and the processes in motion.  This helped keep a clear and concise line of communication which is key during a hectic time. When you aren’t able to plan ahead, it’s important to remain adaptable.  At one of our accounts in Mississippi, a tornado completely destroyed the hospital and we had to quickly relocate our operations to a nearby facility.  By communicating efficiently, being adaptable, and updating our facility plans quickly and concisely, we were able to help ensure a seamlessly fluid transition of our services.

Any last words of advice regarding implementing a disaster preparedness plan?

It’s more than just having a policy in place for disaster preparedness, you must have a detailed plan and know how you are going to execute that plan and who is going to lead the implementation. The great thing about working in a healthcare setting is that our team members have a vast reach, and there are not too many things that we haven’t already seen.  We have been through hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes, and now, a mass shooting.  Ultimately, our entire industry is based off accidents.  By perfecting our jobs, we can further improve our ability to handle something that is out of our control. Remember to be consistent and always be prepared to have all hands on deck.

Crisis situations are a harsh reminder of the importance of being prepared. By engaging with your team, establishing detailed plans, and remaining adaptable, you can be ready to handle any situation that is thrown your way.  The more preparation, collaboration, and support you have, the more likely that, during the fury of the storm, you will be the calm that it fails to reckon with.


To learn more about HHS and our disaster preparedness protocols, contact us.