Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Preparing for Biological Disasters
I have blogged before about the CHRISTUS Health experience with hurricanes multiple times. As many of our facilities are located on the Gulf Coast, we learned first-hand the importance of having a clear disaster response strategy in place.
This commitment to a disaster response strategy extends beyond just hurricanes, though. The world’s experience with H1N1 flu last year reminded all of us how important it is to be prepared to offer an immediate, well-coordinated response to pandemic and biological disasters as well.
At the end of March, the CHRISTUS Health Pandemic Committee conducted a system-wide drill after several months of development and revisions of its influenza/biological pandemic plan. The mock scenario was an outbreak of unusually severe illness; specifically, a particular strain of H1N1 influenza that had been identified by the Centers for Disease Control as Phase 6 (widespread) in many states including Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Utah – all regions in which CHRISTUS Health operates.
The exercise, was launched by the system Senior Leadership Team in the corporate command center in Dallas, and we immediately began assigning and prioritizing incident response activities.
Team members quickly solidified our roles and began responding to approximately 35 mock requests for assistance that were being phoned in or made via e-mail directly to the command center from across our regions and facilities. Regional emergency preparedness coordinators from the CHRISTUS Health Southeast Texas, Southwestern Louisiana, Central Louisiana and Ark-La-Tex regions, as well as CHRISTUS Spohn, CHRISTUS Medical Group, CHRISTUS St. Vincent, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, CHRISTUS Health Utah, Infection Control and Risk Management were among those participating in the drill.
Through this exercise, we aimed to build system-wide competency and familiarization of the revised CHRISTUS Health influenza/biological pandemic plan; provide an opportunity to exercise system pandemic reporting applications (EMResource, CHRISTUS Health emergency Website resources) with participating CHRISTUS facilities and the corporate command center; and practice emergency communications protocols by relaying vital information between responding entities.
The exercise lasted approximately three hours, including a debriefing and “after-action” review to identify what went well, opportunities for improvement, gaps in our emergency preparedness planning, and policies that will be addressed. We’re also investigating how to build social media tools into our existing disaster response communication plans, realizing the need for additional communication tools in our arsenal that can be quickly updated and are easily accessible by displaced Associates via home computers or mobile devices.