4 emergency planning lessons from Hurricane Harvey

Man, dog enter boat during Hurricane Harvey rescue
Texas hospitals' failures and successes in responding to Hurricane Harvey offer lessons for other providers. (Department of Defense)

Texas hospitals' response to Hurricane Harvey offers lessons on how providers can better prepare for such a far-reaching disaster, according to a new report. 

The Texas Hospital Association analyzed (PDF) how hospitals in the state handled the hurricane before, during and after the storm. In addition to identifying areas where hospitals were successfully prepared for the hurricane, the report offers several areas for improvement that are applicable to hospitals outside of Texas, too. 

"Texas hospitals leveraged innovative approaches to—among other things—transfer the most vulnerable patients, stall the rising flood water and feed and house evacuees who arrived unexpectedly," Carrie Croll, THA's vice president of advocacy, quality and public safety, said in an announcement.  

"It is important that the lessons learned are shared with hospital colleagues across the state so that, as an industry, we are even better prepared when the next storm hits," she added. 

RELATED: Texas Department of Health used video visits to monitor TB patients in the aftermath of Harvey 

Among the report's key findings: 

  1. Better coordination with community partners is necessary to provide adequate shelter. People in need of shelter because of the storm were often brought to Houston-area hospitals, according to the report, further straining already limited supplies. Hospitals can work with local agencies to determine how to ensure resources are available to house displaced people.
  2. Hospitals may need to plan for additional security. Some Houston-area providers reported added costs to bring in security personnel following an influx of patients. Security staff was especially important in some hospitals as emotions ran high among those seeking shelter and domestic violence erupted.
  3. Effective communication is crucial. There were several communication breakdowns in the response to Hurricane Harvey, according to the report. For example, conflicting reports were released on which hospitals were open or at capacity, and police officers did not effectively communicate curfew rules to hospital staffers.
  4. Employees must be supported, too. This extends to emotional and behavioral health needs, according to the report. Many employees rode out the storm in the hospital without seeing their families for days and needed help to manage the stress and anxiety. 

RELATED: RWJF report: Nation's public health emergency preparedness improving, but slowly 

Hurricane Harvey forced a number of hospitals to close their doors during the storm, and one—East Houston Regional Medical Center—closed permanently as result of the damage. 

Texas was hit hard by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which provided a blueprint for an emergency response. Texas Medical Center created a five-point checklist for preparedness following Allison that it put into action for Harvey, including a focus on improving infrastructure and staff training. 

TMC still ran into challenges during Harvey, including a lack of planning for dialysis patients—an issue that's noted in the Texas Hospital Association's report.