Disaster plans are a moving target: 4 areas to update

As of this morning, the snow in Boston has stopped, the travel ban has been lifted and the kids have another full day off from school. With snow totals of up to two-and-a-half feet, Blizzard 2015 wasn't the worst to ever sweep coastal New England, though it did pack a punch. Officials have also gotten savvier about not just predicting storms, but also preparing for them.

Whether or not you're in favor of government-imposed travel bans, for example, orders to keep drivers off of roads helped mitigate storm-related deaths, traffic accidents and traffic jams compared to similar-grade storms of the past, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini told ABC News. "Under normal circumstances, we would have expected hundreds of accidents on or highway system. Last night, we had 11," added Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on Tuesday.

Another surely unpopular safety precaution taken by officials in ever-vulnerable Scituate, Massachusetts, was to turn off power preemptively on major coastal roads to reduce the risk of fires caused by electrical arcs in deep flood waters, NBC News reported. Scituate happens to be my hometown. And I can tell you that while I was relieved my mother's power stayed on throughout the storm, I was also very glad not to see any of my old neighbors' homes ablaze on the news.

What's important to note here isn't so much the nature of these specific precautions, but that they are relatively new in the span of a society's centuries-old defense against Mother Nature's wrath. When it comes to planning for any type of natural disaster and how it may affect your practice, remember that nature will always have the edge, that you'll forever be the rookie with lessons to learn (most often, the hard way).

This means that it's not enough to simply create a disaster plan and give it a cursory review from time to time. Rather, it means that you should look for opportunities to improve upon measures you already have in place. As leaders, you may also need to muster the courage to experiment with policies your employees or patients may not like, to learn whether they are worthwhile for the greater good. It's too soon to know, for example, how far is too far (or far enough) in protecting against transmission of the Ebola virus. And chances are good this isn't the last disease that will force many practices to make tough calls.

Regular updates are also practical given the consistency of change. For instance:

  • You know that it's important to carry business interruption insurance, but when's the last time you checked to make sure you had the most appropriate coverage at the best rate?
  • What has changed in your IT environment since you last updated the way you protect practice data? Are you using any new vendors? Systems? Storage types? Is employee training up to date?
  • What's your communication strategy for weather-related closings and policies? Are the point people in charge of implementing those communications still with your practice? Have you gained technology that makes it possible for some employees to work from home when the weather is bad but not bad enough to close the office? Have you added any telemedicine services or developed referral relationships with colleagues that do?
  • Perhaps most importantly, have you networked with other practices recently to find out how they're handling these challenges? It's a lot harder to ask questions of your peers once the phone lines and Internet go down, so get proactive about sharing your collective experience now. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)