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Staying In the Loop When Disaster Strikes

November 3, 2011
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One hospital's behind-the-scene disaster preparation strategy

During my research for an article on disaster recovery recently, I was impressed by the lengths that hospitals go to make sure that they have a backup plan in place to prepare for any untoward event. If there was one thing that all CIOs interviewed agreed on, it’s that events are indeed unpredictable, and some of the examples involved a string of highly unlikely events that had a decidedly Rube Goldberg quality.

Time, of course, is of the essence when it comes to responding for fast-moving events, and for that to happen, the staff has to be kept up to date. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, in Manhasset, N.Y., installed a notification solution (supplied by San Diego-based MIR3) in 2009, just prior to the H1N1 outbreak in the area. Mary Mahoney, recently shared her insights on how the hospital communicates with its staff, and how the notification system has been integrated into its disaster planning. The criteria behind the hospital’s choice included security, redundancy, and the various mediums—messaging, email, phone, etc.—that can be used to send messages.

Mahoney says the hospital has a tiered response group in place. In the event something happens, an executive committee is notified and immediately put into a conference call via a call bridge. Following the initial conference, a second tier is notified and placed immediately into a conference call, which pushes details out to the rest of the staff. During the second conference call, the system alerts all employees that there is an emergency and that they will be contacted by their individual facility.

North Shore-LIJ is a health system with 15 providers. Each hospital has an emergency operations plan that lists its specific needs during a disaster, Mahoney says. In addition, each facility has an emergency preparedness person who is a liaison between the individual facility and corporate emergency management. All of the necessary data is captured in a customized emergency management software program, which enables the health system to see its resources, incidents, and mitigation strategies in one common format, Mahoney says.

Mahoney notes that the hospital system is fortunate that it has not experienced many events that directly involved patient care. In the case of the H1N1 outbreak, the hospital system was able to get reports of overall event status were sent out at specific intervals, freeing up the staff to focus on the incident versus spending time making notifications.

Mahoney says the most important the hospital has learned from any event is that the staff needs to be informed with correct and consistent information in a timely and organized manner. “We have had several instances in our system where there were either rumors running around causing staff to react, or the exact opposite, where the staff had no idea that an incident was occurring that affected them,” she says.

To identify the biggest disaster threats, North Shore-LIJ does a hazard vulnerability analysis (HVA) annually. This involved each site to provide an HVA; the individual HVAs are then consolidated at the corporate level into a system-wide HVA. In addition to that, she says, on the system level specialized emergency management software is used to track all system incidents. The data can be queried by interval and type, she says. At a minimum, executives receive year-to-date incidents by type monthly.