What if Hurricane Sandy came to your city?

 A guest post by the American College of Chest Physicians, exclusive to KevinMD.com.

In light of Hurricane Sandy’s impact upon the east coast, and subsequent effect on the area’s healthcare delivery systems, many physicians and healthcare professionals are likely considering how they would respond if disaster were to strike their community. From the decision making process and preparation for evacuation to evacuation when disaster strikes, the successes of planning and coordination by New York City-area hospitals and emergency operations centers resulted in no casualties and offer us many insights and points for reflection.

The American College of Chest Physicians consists of healthcare professionals who practice in the area of critical care and also have special interests and experiences in caring for those impacted by disasters. The most basic advice for providers is to be flexible and to work as a team during the suboptimal conditions of a disaster. Pre-disaster communication, drills, and coordination have proven to lead to the best outcomes.

There are many things to think about in preparation for a disaster, but we offer these four considerations:

1.  All hands on deck. Staff should anticipate supplies and caring for patients outside of their scope of practice during a disaster, such as pediatrics, trauma, and obstetrics.

2. Generators are helpful, but they don’t guarantee a smooth ride. A hospital is not fully functional on generator power, even if it does work as expected. Efforts should be made to plan for simultaneous evacuation.

3. Practice, practice, practice. Evacuation plans should be rehearsed in a limited, but realistic, scale and should include communication with all coalition partners and potential accepting and discharging institutions.

4. Expand your network. Partnerships and coordination with regional EMS and other facilities in advance of the disaster will offer improved situational awareness during the event.

Although the region may be in recovery mode, the disaster may continue within the healthcare system due to limited power, supply issues, and surges of patients. Your own personal preparedness at home will help you meet the healthcare needs of others if you and your family are safe and secure.

As you enhance and revise your disaster preparedness plans at your institution, you might find the ACCP’s Definitive Care for the Critically Ill During a Disaster: A Framework for Optimizing Critical Care Surge Capacity, to be valuable. Additionally, the ACCP’s Task Force for Mass Critical Care is primed to release a new version of this guide soon. Be sure to keep this on your radar and revisit your plan often to ensure the best possible care for your patients.

How do you rate your critical care surge capacity? Are you prepared for disaster?

The American College of Chest Physicians represents physicians and non-physician specialists in the field of chest medicine, which includes pulmonology, thoracic surgery, and critical care medicine.

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