The lessons learned from the Haiti Earthquake (total loss of infrastructure), 911 (loss of the primary disaster response control center and overloaded cell phone systems), and Katrina (destroyed healthcare facilities and unexpected death toll) serve as a reminder that no matter what emergency plans are in place you cannot plan for every contingency or threat.
However, any plan is better than no plan.
Here are 10 lessons for communities and individuals:
Back up communications need to be part of the plan. These can include: cell phones, ham radios, satellite phones, long distance walkie talkies, text messaging or battery operated computers and even human messengers.
Communications may be out in your general area but not else ware. For individuals, specifying one primary contact person outside of you immediate area – another city, state or even country – where family and friends can make contact with a third party will set up your private communications center.
Health care facilities need to consider their capacity to handle a surge of patients. Depending upon the disaster, even those individuals not requiring immediate medical care may seek help for local hospitals.
Health care facilities overwhelmed with medical cases will be hard pressed to deal with the emotionally traumatized survivors requiring help. Disaster planning also requires planning for there “patients”. It may require mutual agreements with behavioral health facilities.
Secondary care and triage sites:.
Hospitals are not immune to disasters. Alternate care sites need to be part of any disaster plan. This could necessitate utilizing family caregivers.
Mass casualties can easily outpace the capacity of morgues. The indignities of bulldozing bodies into mass graves currently faced in Haiti is not a culturally accepted practice that the American public would tolerate. Communities would have to be innovative in their planning. Mutual agreements with other states, military facilities and even facilities with self contained climate-controlled buildings should be a component of any disaster plan.
The first 72-hour period:
Outside help from governmental agencies could take up to 72 hours or more. Planning should include resources to assure surviving the first 72 hours. Hospitals have been told by regulatory agencies to plan their resources to sustain them for the first 96 hours of any disaster. Beyond this time, evacuation needs to be considered.
Personal family disaster plans:
Everyone should have a personal family disaster plan. Click here for additional information on family disaster planning.
For additional information: Source: Thesis – Kennedy Western University – Assuring a safe environment for patients, employees and visitors: preparing healthcare organizations for emergency response; J D. Roill 2003.