Emergency Preparedness- Failing to Plan = Planning To Fail

Edition: December 2001 - Vol 9 Number 12
Article#: 1116
Author: Dr. Sheila Dunn

You don't have to work in an inner city, on a fault line, in a flood zone, or in hurricane alley to experience a disaster. The explosions at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and Centennial Park in Atlanta prove that terrorism can strike anywhere or anytime. The events of September 11, 2001 jolted individuals and companies nationwide into looking seriously at how well they can respond to catastrophes.

Nothing could have prepared us for crazed fanatics who fly planes into buildings or mail anthrax spores specially designed to aerosolize. Now that these unthinkable acts are reality, we are forced to think about their impact on our families, our lives and our work.

Uncertainty is maddening.. no one can be sure that they will not contract anthrax or smallpox or stumble in the path of a tornado, or experience some other disaster but we can all take some common sense precautions that may make a difference in whether we survive one or not.

Natural Disasters

Man-Made Disasters
*Chemical Spills
*Biological Terrorism
*Mass Transportation Incidents
*Environmental toxins
*Nuclear accidents

Unfortunately, the vast majority of medical facilities are grossly unprepared for disasters and are struggling to catch-up. Although hospitals would likely provide most first aid, decontamination and antidote therapy to disaster victims, medical practices will have a role to play, either initially or in the post-disaster recovery. They will also be in the front lines for diagnosing diseases due to bioterrorism.

Even if a medical facility isn't called upon to provide direct emergency care, their inventory of emergency supplies or equipment may be needed at the disaster scene. In some recent disasters, health care was administered in parking lots, malls, and tents using limited power and water sources.

What Medical Practices Should Anticipate In A Disaster:
*Sudden influx of patients, media
*Communications outages (phones, computers, faxes, etc.)
*Supply shortages
*Medication shortages
*Lack of water
*Internal damage to building (broken windows, downed ceiling tiles, etc.)

Your customers now must prepare not just to meet the simple OSHA requirement to have fire and evacuation plans for their employees, but the threat that they might need to treat large numbers of patients and detect diseases that they have never seen. For distributor salespeople, the best advice is to get the facts and disseminate them.

A To-Do List For Your Customers
*Review your current OSHA program for emergency procedures.
*Perform an evacuation drill with all employees
*Designate an assembly point to account for all employees and patients.
*Anticipate the potential for mobilization and consider assembling emergency kits containing water, first aid supplies, short wave radios, flashlights, batteries, heavy-duty gloves, food, and sanitation supplies.
*Post a list of emergency numbers (fire, police, rescue squad, local and state health departments, the CDC, and FEMA). Include the number for your medical supply company in the event of an emergency that requires supplies to treat an unusually high number of patients.
*Find out what organizations in your community are part of the National Disaster Medical System or if your practice is located in an urban area, determine if there is a Metropolitan Medical Response System plan in your community.
*Talk with the local hospital, community leaders, lawmakers and others about the role your physician office would play in a mass casualty event, especially an incident with large numbers of survivors.
*Determine how staff will triage, treat and transfer patients to a hospital.
*Review your supply and inventory strategy. Include the possibility that traditional transportation systems could be disabled.
*Ensure that your clinical employees can recognize illnesses caused by suspected chemical or biological terrorism and identify unexpected illness patterns in order to alert the public health department and/or the CDC.

A To-Do List For Reps
*Know your role in your company's disaster preparedness plan
*What are your alternate travel routes for picking up supplies in an emergency? (i.e. main route closed, bridge or tunnel closed, etc.)
*Prepare a list of local emergency numbers to provide to your customers
*Encourage customers to send in for a free Emergency Action Plan (See Sidebar)
*Keep abreast of the latest government information:

CDC's Public Health Emergency website www.bt.cdc.gov

Local information www.bt.cdc.gov/STAandLocal/

Local and state information on bioterrorism (34 page document) www.cdc.gov/ncidod/htp/bio/13apr99APIC-CDCBioterrorism.pdf www.quality-america.com

The key to avoiding personal tragedy during disasters is to be prepared. Hopefully, I hope you find the suggestions given above helpful in providing value-added information to your practices.

FREE Value-Added Product For Your Customers

Quality America is offering a free issue of the November-December OSHAWatch newsletter that focuses on ''Emergency Action Plans'' for physician office customers. This 18-page OSHAWatch includes practical suggestions for reacting to crises, including strategies for recognizing and responding to bioterrorism. Every medical office in the country needs this timely information. Encourage your customers to send a self-addressed stamped ($1.34) oversize (9 x 12) envelope to:

Quality America
PO Box 8787
Asheville, NC 28814
ATTN: ''Disaster Preparedness Issue''.

About the Author:Dr. Sheila Dunn heads Quality America, Inc., an Asheville, NC based consulting firm that publishes an OSHA Safety Manual, video and newsletter. Quality America's newest product is a Sharps Injury Reduction Program video. All products sold through distribution. For information about Quality America's products and services, call 800-946-9956 or visit Quality America's Online Resource Center @ www.quality-america.com