Joplin hospitals share lessons on disaster planning


Hospitals in Missouri coped well with natural disasters last year after a blizzard and floods in January 2011, but they were not as prepared for the overwhelming patient surge from the EF-5 tornado that wiped out Joplin in May, according to a Missouri Hospital Association report.

As one of the deadliest tornados in American history, the tornado caused 161 fatalities and approximately 1,371 injuries.

"It is unlikely that an [emergency operations plan] will ever provide exact response instructions, but it does provide staff the critical thinking skills needed to anticipate and respond to a disaster," the report states. "Emergency preparedness planning must not be an exclusive process; all employees and medical staff must know and understand the EOP. … Plan and exercise together."

Among the lessons learned in the report, the MHA offers hospitals the following tips:

  • Make sure the incident commanding officer and other chiefs take time to establish operational periods of one to two hours and stop to review progress. They should also monitor for unauthorized individuals, such as vendors or media, trying to enter the hospital.
  • Assign a public information officer to address the media and enact the social media strategy. Use the backup grab bags of pencils, paper and flashlights if the communication systems like the internal phones fail, and establish a separate hotline for additional communication with staff.
  • Use the to-go kits of water, batteries, cell phone chargers, etc., placed throughout the facility.
  • Ensure that staff have multiple, proper IDs, and have a plan for lockdown with immediate security reinforcement or a crowd diversion procedure.
  • Have a process to manage credentialed volunteers

MHA further added, "Hospital leadership and management and emergency planners must continue to make emergency preparedness a top priority within their organizations."

Hospitals across the nation are better prepared and improved disaster planning, Federal Emergency Management Agency reported last week.  

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