Maintaining Disaster Preparedness
Accreditation Now
by Mary Ellen Conway, RN, BSN

A billboard I used to pass in rural West Virginia had a sobering message in huge letters: “1 in 4 Businesses Will Not Recover From a Disaster.” We have certainly seen our share of disasters in recent years. We watched Hurricane Katrina almost wipe New Orleans off the map in 2005. More recently, Super Storm Sandy ravaged New Jersey and New York, with some areas still not recovered. This year, in early August, we saw devastating floods hit southern Louisiana, causing unbelievable destruction across 13 parishes. We never know when a disaster may strike our neighborhood, but there certainly are ways that we can prepare for one.

A disaster plan is a plan you create in the event that a disaster occurs, and most accreditors require you have a realistic disaster plan in place. This plan must be individualized and specific to your business to address the disasters you could face, not a binder you purchase and place on the shelf.

Disasters can happen any time, and not just from weather issues. As we recently recognized the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we know there can be man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks. We can also experience occurrences such as a gas line rupture, a sink hole opening, flooding or a massive power outage due to fallen trees and/or power lines—common consequences after a tornado or hurricane—that lasts for an extended time period. Disasters can be large or small. There are countless situations that can cause a major disruption to our way of life. Even though we never want them to happen, we can certainly be prepared for them.

HME and pharmacy operations are the types of businesses that offer critical health services. Often, we provide life-saving services and products that are essential to our customers’ well-being. There is no luxury of waiting until life returns to normal to slowly begin to ramp-up operations. We often must function through a disaster, as our customers may be looking to us for service in even greater ways during a disaster that other businesses may not have to face.

When developing or editing a disaster plan for your business, there are many questions you should ask yourself. The first questions are: What if we could not get to the office to conduct business as usual? And how can my employees be safe and work from a safe location? To answer these questions, start with the litany of questions that arise, and then work backwards.

First, do we have a disaster plan with a list of procedures to implement? How do we activate it?

  • Make a plan with a list of procedures to implement, know who activates it and make sure that all leaders have a copy of it readily accessible. Keep the plan accessible off-site so it can be accessed remotely if needed.
  • Know what each staff member’s role is in the event the plan needs to be implemented.
  • Make a telephone tree with backup home and cell phone numbers for all essential staff.
  • Keep list of current contact numbers for all staff.
  • Ensure access to a battery-powered portable radio that is accessible by staff in case of a weather-related emergency and subsequent power outage.
  • Test this plan once a year to ensure that it is current and workable with all of the correct phone numbers as needed.

Specific Elements Needed in A Disaster Plan

  • Have an alternative location to meet in the event that you can’t get to the main building, such as a backup location or branch office.
  • Have a priority categorization of patients (often required by accreditation).
    1. 1. Determine who needs services immediately (oxygen, medication) versus those who can wait (wound care supplies).
    2. 2. Identify any customer you may have to reach out to (in the event that there is a warning that a disaster may be imminent), and ensure they have adequate supplies to weather the disaster.
  • Plan how to best provide business to the customers who need your equipment/services during a disaster.
    1. 1. Identify services that may be delayed or interrupted.
    2. 2. Ensure that you can provide services from your remote location (phone/Internet/delivery/walk-in).
    3. 3. Determine the staff who may be affected during the emergency and how their duties would be covered if they cannot work.
    4. 4. Make arrangements with alternative suppliers in the event that you cannot service your own customers as a result of the disaster.
    5. 5. In cold climates, make sure you have equipped company vehicles with winter survival kits.
  • Have access to four-wheel drive vehicles when needed.
  • Is there a way you can remote into your computer system?
    1. 1. IT backup is performed. Routinely, it is kept remotely and you know how it can be accessed.

This is a good place to start. Ask these questions, develop your answers and soon you will have your disaster plan ready to put into place—and hopefully you will never have to use it.

If you have not had to activate your disaster plan recently, be sure you check and test it annually. Testing your plan and updating it as often as needed ensures that you can be ready when disaster strikes. When testing or after implementation, make notes as to what worked and what didn’t so that you can update your plan with any information or corrections you need to make.

We say that disaster plans are a lot like CPR training—you always want to be ready to perform CPR, but you hope you never have to. Disasters are unplanned events. You may never have a disaster that causes you to activate your plans, but you need to be well-prepared in advance with realistic and appropriate plans that staff can follow. Creating workable plans is a task that is critical for your business survival so that you can be one of those three out of four businesses that do recover from a disaster.

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