Resilience in Healthcare: How to prepare your facility and reduce risk in the event of a disaster

First in a series of excerpts from the free executive guide, “The Evolving Importance of Healthcare Resiliency: Preparing Your Hospital for a Crisis.”

By Mike Zorich 

Resilience in healthcare can only be served if your hospital is prepared to face the worst. By taking proactive steps and making concrete plans to further the disaster preparedness of your healthcare facility or system, you’ll be better equipped to answer the call of your community during dire situations. 

In addition to being resilient to natural disasters, hospitals also must be prepared for other disruptions such as power outages, water shortages or infrastructure failures – all of which impair their ability to provide lifesaving care to their vulnerable patient population. Without a clear plan and definitive course of action in place ahead of time, your hospital could be left scrambling to recover, putting patients and staff at risk and leaving your facility liable. 

Without a doubt, establishing a disaster-resilient healthcare institution is becoming an exceedingly more complex problem. Even hospitals that feel confident in the resiliency of their building and their contingency plans may find gaps and inconsistencies with the reality of today’s changing world. Natural disasters like the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., the wildfires in California and the flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 have always been a risk. However, due to our changing planet, the frequency and severity of these events is increasing.  

Beyond natural disasters, hospitals also need to plan for how they would respond to catastrophes such as an active shooter or other mass casualty events. Other risks include an infectious disease outbreak that could cripple a region and induce panic, or a cyber-attack, which could lead to financial loss or breach in patient privacy. 

With such a broad range of threats that can occur, how can you ensure your hospital is adequately prepared? Further, assuming the requirements for healthcare resiliency will continue to evolve, how can you ensure your hospital stays adequately prepared?  

Answering these questions first requires an understanding of four commonly accepted characteristics of infrastructure resiliency, as defined in 2009 by the National Infrastructure Advisory Council: 

  • Robustness: the ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of crisis. This includes the building itself, the design of the infrastructure (office buildings, power generation, distribution structures, bridges, dams, levees), or in system redundancy and substitution (transportation, power grid, communications networks). 
  • Resourcefulness: the ability to skillfully prepare for, respond to, and manage a crisis or disruption as it unfolds. This includes identifying courses of action and business continuity planning, training, supply chain management, prioritizing actions to control and mitigate damage, and effectively communicating decisions. 
  • Rapid recovery: the ability to return to or reconstitute normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disruption. Components of rapid recovery include carefully drafted contingency plans, competent emergency operations, and the means to get the right people and resources to the right place. 
  • Redundancy: having back-up resources to support the originals in case of failure. 

Using these traits as a benchmark, you can begin to take an informed look at the main resiliency issues facing your healthcare facility 

  • Structural integrity 
  • MEP infrastructure 
  • Physical security 
  • Mass casualty events and infectious outbreaks 
  • Cyber security  

In this series of blogs I provide a broad, multidisciplinary look at these key areas, which represent many of the most often overlooked and misunderstood aspects of hospital risk management. I’ll also provide basic considerations for each area to set your institution on the path toward true resiliency and the ability to survive a crisis. 

Next: Three questions to help define the structural integrity of your hospital

Download the entire executive guide, “The Evolving Importance of Healthcare Resiliency: Preparing Your Hospital for a Crisis.”

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