Tornado underscores importance of disaster planning, redundancy

The massive tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., this week reiterates the importance for hospitals not only to have a disaster plan, but also to ensure redundancy and backup of essential systems and records.

For instance, while 45-bed Moore Medical Center was destroyed, patients who rode out the storm in a windowless safe space on the first floor eventually were able to gain access to their electronic medical records at other facilities thanks to the Regional Health Information Organization SMRTnet, according to Health Technology Online.

St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo, now known as Mercy, took a similar hit two years ago, when a tornado destroyed facilities and blew X-rays and paper files up to 70 miles away. The hospital, however, had invested $550 million in electronic records that included storage 200 miles away.

The Missouri Hospital Association put together a report on lessons learned from the Joplin disaster. Among the lessons learned in the report, MHA offered hospitals the following tips:

  • 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 

Disaster planning is an ongoing process as tornadoes pose a challenge every spring and fall, according to Duncan (Okla.) Regional Hospital CIO Roger Neal. The FierceHealthIT Advisory Board member said last fall that that Duncan has "invested heavily in redundancy" for areas like its HIS server farm and its main routers.

"We are always planning and looking at how we serve our patients better during inclement weather, and the process is always being tweaked," Neal told FierceHealthIT. "I think the big key for us is to always keep emergency management in the forefront of what we do."

To learn more:
- here's the Health Technology Online piece

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