Does Your Disaster Plan Cover the Unexpected?
Depending on where you are located in the country, certain types of disasters are more common than others. Due to this familiarity, facilities are able to plan for the likelihood of these events each year. However, the disasters that are most likely to occur in your area aren’t the only ones you need to be planning for. Extreme weather conditions throughout 2022 led to a number of alarming disasters all over the US, showing us that we need to expect the unexpected and prepare for all possible scenarios in a disaster plan, not just the high-probability ones.
Who would have thought these uncommon events would have happened in 2022?
- Record drought conditions throughout the country, with up to 94.3% drought coverage in the West
- Wildfire in New Mexico, largest in the state’s history – April
- Flood in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, a 500-year flood event – June
- Multiple flooding events in West Virginia, receiving 200% of the state’s normal precipitation – July-August
- Heatwave in the West, which broke almost 1,000 all-time heat records – September
- Hurricane Ian impacting coastal southwest Florida, likely the 3rd-most destructive storm on record – September
- Winter storm throughout the US, causing blizzards and record cold temperatures across the Northeast and Midwest – December
Disasters are increasing across the country. Since 2017, the US has experienced an average of 18 “billion-dollar disasters” each year; throughout the prior four decades, the average was just 7.7 per year.
According to psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, individuals have difficulty envisioning small probabilities. Whenever an event is unlikely, they tend to treat it as if it will not happen. The decision to engage in advanced planning requires thinking not just about the cost of a solution at that time. Additionally, how much time and money will be saved in the long term by avoiding costly problems when they do occur?
As health care professionals, it is important to do the math when it comes to low probabilities. How does one convince decision-makers that spending money to prepare for X scenario or Y disaster is worth the investment? A gut reaction is not a solution to properly plan for disasters. Instead, calculate the return on investment (ROI) of actions taken now, the probability of bad outcomes, and the increased expense if action is not taken before the disaster occurs.
Evaluation + preparation = emergency planning solution
The “All-Hazards Approach” includes considering and planning for any of these possible scenarios:
- Emerging infectious disease
- Loss of normal water supply
- Economic disruption
- Armed individuals
- Missing resident
- Severe weather
- Loss of power
- Bomb threats
- Fire or smoke
- Loss of heat
- Civil unrest
- Gas leak
However, when considering hazard vulnerability, it is important to look at internal and external factors. Having plans and procedures for each hazard is imperative to the successful maintenance of operations. If 20% of planning prepares for 80% of possible emergencies, what happens when the other 20% occurs? You must think outside the 80/20 rule, because it is important to maintain patient health and safety 100% of the time. The 80/20 Rule is why an “All-Hazards Approach” is not enough.
In the healthcare environment, planning should address more than just common emergencies or large-scale disasters. Common emergencies, even those with a low probability, can have a high impact on patient health and safety. They can also present unique challenges with unrecognized interdependencies.
Examples of disasters that are low-frequency, but can have a very high impact on patient care that may fall outside the perimeters of the “All-Hazards Approach” include:
- What happens when there is an elevator bank outage? How do you get food and supplies to the kitchen and patients?
- What happens when the water system/plumbing is disrupted? How will water rapidly be deployed for food preparation, hand hygiene, and drinking. Do not forget about critical operations such as dialysis and equipment sanitation.
Have you considered these questions when thinking about a natural disaster, civil unrest, terrorism, or pandemic?
- Is this part of your emergency plan?
- What is the weak link in the supply chain?
- What are the trends being watched by local emergency management organizations outside the facility?
Both internal and external disasters, as well as those with high and low probability, can be devastating and life threatening. It is vital to have a ready supply of emergency food and water on hand. Don’t let your disaster plan be your next disaster!
Contact Meals for All TODAY to learn more about shelf stable food and water options that save time, lives and money while providing regulatory compliance and peace of mind.
By Linda Eck-Mills, MBA, RDN, LDN, FADA, and Renee Kowal, RDN, Regional Executives at Meals for All, Inc.