Disaster Preparedness for Hospital Administrators

Healthcare administrators are equipped to handle many of the average problems and concerns that arise in a hospital on a day-to-day basis, but what happens during extraordinary events?

The devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston shows the critical importance for healthcare institutions to have a disaster preparedness plan. During times of crisis, the needs of these facilities and the people they serve can change rapidly, and a pre-established response can save wasted time, money, and lives.

Case study: Texas Medical Center

While Hurricane Harvey has been a tough weather event for all healthcare institutions in the area, Texas Medical Center in downtown Houston discussed how it prepared for such conditions ahead of time:

“We have made huge investment in the Texas Medical Center. It’s the largest medical city in the world. And we have built storm gates around all of our hospitals and clinics, which have protected all of our buildings.” — Bill McKeon, President of Texas Medical Center

The hospital decided to install the floodgates after a water event in 2001 that damaged billions of dollars of research. Building the floodgates ahead of Hurricane Harvey has meant that the medical center avoided damage this time around and was able to continue serving local residents for emergency, and some routine, purposes.

McKeon described how the medical center prepared for the hurricane by rescheduling many patient services and bringing in medical practitioners ahead of time. There is also a network of tunnels and ramps that ensured the ability to move patients easily between buildings, despite weather conditions.

What is the role of a hospital administrator ahead of a disaster?

Hospital administrators are critical to disaster preparedness planning, because they automatically view the healthcare institution through a systems-level perspective. This bird’s-eye vision is a valuable perspective in thinking through how each component of the medical institution will continue to function during an emergency event.

Hospital administrators who work on disaster preparedness may work directly with executive-level managers who have the authority to approve new policies, materials, and facility designs.

So, what’s in a disaster preparedness plan?

The goal of an emergency preparedness plan should be to ensure readiness to care for individuals who need medical attention, as well as to maintain the safety of staff and patients. It’s important to remember that “disaster” can mean more than flooding — it could refer to tornadoes, earthquakes, epidemics, or even domestic terrorism. Planning for multiple scenarios helps ensure that no event will incapacitate the institution.

Healthcare officials also need to have procedures for monitor potentially emergent healthcare issues during emergency scenarios, since a disaster could facilitate the spread of new or old diseases.

The good news is that disaster preparedness shouldn’t happen in a silo. A strong plan will incorporate other local institutions, as well as government agencies at multiple levels who can provide assistance. Taking the time to develop a chain-of-command and pinpoint how resources and staff will be allocated during an emergency can make a world of difference if a worst-case scenario does arrive at a hospital’s doorstep.