Will your employees be prepared in a disaster? Try our emergency preparedness tips.Being ready for unexpected events is key for hospitals and senior living organizations. Your employees must be ready to respond in the face of emergencies, cyberattacks, and natural disasters. We compiled a set of actionable tips to help you prepare your team for situations like:

  • Mass casualty events caused by weather, violence, or accidents like roof collapses or motor vehicle crashes. These events result in an overwhelming number of patients entering the facility and may involve members of your staff.
  • Environmental emergencies include severe weather events, power failures, criminal or terrorist activities such as active shooters, or a nuclear, biological or chemical release. These situations create challenges related to ensuring staff and patient safety, executing proper containment and risk mitigation procedures, and functioning under extreme conditions.
  • Cyberattacks can disrupt administration and patient or resident care. Hackers can access the Internet of Things to cause critical equipment failure that disables vital care equipment. Hackers can also access your network to collect patient and staff financial and health data, or unleash a ransomware attack.

“It is important to remember that in any emergency situation, all personnel must prioritize the safety of patients and staff,” says retired emergency physician Ben Hippen. Regardless of the type of healthcare organization, there are key talent management and other activities you can use to help your staff be prepared and to plan for different types of disaster. Below are a few ways you can develop a stronger emergency preparedness strategy for your organization.

Recruit for Readiness

Improve your organization’s ability to respond effectively to crises by recruiting for emergency preparedness. Use these tips to make emergency preparedness a part of everyone’s job:

  • Assess the threats most likely to affect your organization, including weather events like hurricanes, tornados or wildfires, cyberattacks and active shooter situations, and mass casualty events
  • Add specific emergency response skills as must-haves on all job descriptions, not just for the ED
  • Emphasize cybersecurity skills and experience in IT in administrative position descriptions
  • Integrate readiness skills into behavioral assessments and structured interview questions

When recruiting for cybersecurity experience, for example, there are many skills to take into consideration.  “Every organization that relies on computers needs people on staff with security experience, and healthcare organizations may have particularly complicated security and privacy requirements because of regulations like HIPAA that govern healthcare data,” explains Josephine Wolff, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Policy at Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “Increasingly, over the past few years, we’ve seen ransomware targeting hospitals and healthcare organizations, so employees in these settings must be aware of the risks and familiar with basic online safety and security protocols to protect themselves and the networks they use.”

Recruiting employees who are “able to comply with regulations while also staying abreast of and preparing for other potential online security threats…and are prepared to tackle, audit, and secure, not just an organization’s in-house IT operations but also the broader IT ecosystem of vendors and contractors” is key. It is also essential to train staff to spot and respond to cybercrime, execute your business recovery and continuity plan, and operate with limited access to technology.

Ensure Access to Additional Staff

In a slowly unfolding disaster, like a flood or recovery effort — or a weather event that prevents some staff from getting to work, like a blizzard — you may need additional staff to function. Here is what you need to always have the right extra hands at the ready, should you need them:

  • Loop healthcare staffing partners into your readiness planning
  • Explore the kind of talent you are likely to need and produce requirements in advance, including emergency and recovery experience
  • Identify a point of contact
  • Create a process for connecting with them, especially when normal lines of communication are down

Train for Preparedness

Just days before a man killed 22 people and injured 24 more at an El Paso Walmart, the University Medical Center of El Paso ran a crisis response exercise on a mass casualty event. “You have to practice for it,” says Ryan Mielke, Director of Public Affairs for the hospital. “We live in a time where these things are becoming more prevalent than any of us has ever dreamed.”

When the August 3, 2019, events took place, “we were a machine for lack of a better term,” Mielke recalls. “We had no shortage of staff and everyone knew what they needed to do. As ambulances were arriving, teams of physicians and nurses were at the ambulance entrance to take the victims in, begin triage and treatment. It was exceedingly well-ordered, no chaos or confusion. And we only got there by preparedness and training. If you don’t prepare for this, or if you have people or departments who think that won’t happen to them, think again. We thought that.”

You can prepare your organization by starting with these steps to help you train and practice with your staff:

  • Develop protocols to establish a command center in the event of a facility-wide emergency
  • Provide regularly scheduled training throughout the organization for all types of emergencies
  • Review state and federal requirements and regulations, including securing of hazmats and biohazards, and ensure that your facility’s protocols comply with these regulations
  • Cover disaster preparedness procedures during onboarding
  • Hold scheduled and surprise drills to walk your team through the process for each type of emergency so they know how to respond and execute
  • Assess how your organization responds to practice “victims,” and communicate with other healthcare facilities, civil authorities, EMS, fire and police
  • Review your procedure for notifying family members and next of kin, including who is responsible for it and the messaging for specific situations
  • Evaluate the performance of each process and role to identify bottlenecks, missing capabilities, and other opportunities for improvement
  • Make sure your emergency notification system works correctly and reaches all workers, including contractors, travelers, and part-time or temp staff
  • Practice patient and resident evacuation processes
  • Train staff to maintain their own safety, and to remember that patient/resident and staff safety always takes priority

Develop Advanced Planning in Case of Cyberattacks

Your organization can take action today to minimize and counteract the effects of a cyberattack by:

  • Developing protocols for alternate documentation techniques, such as paper charting, and communications with outside institutions, such as for reverse triage to other facilities if needed
  • Switching temporarily to a third-party computing provider to continue providing care to patients and residents with the least possible disruption
  • Providing backup analog systems for communications
  • Running drills for employees to simulate the circumstances of a ransomware attack and walk everyone through how to quarantine affected machines, switch over to alternative modes of communication, and restore affected systems

Prepare for Senior Living Provider Evacuations

“Large-scale disasters have taught long-term care providers many lessons on emergency preparedness,” says Rachel Reeves, spokeswoman for the National Center for Assisted Living. “We’ve made great strides, not only on the notification of residents and their families, but also whether sheltering in place or an actual evacuation is necessary.”

Is your senior living facility ready if an evacuation is necessary? Prepare your workforce by taking these steps:

  • Establish clear roles for employees, including the point of contact for local authorities so you are ready to execute shelter-in-place or evacuation procedures
  • Train employees on your emergency preparedness plans and procedures
  • Make sure employees understand state requirements regarding emergency preparedness and evacuation for assisted living communities
  • Hold regular drills to ensure your staff can move patients quickly and safely under extreme circumstances
  • Ensure that staff is trained in maintaining their own safety — the safer staff members feel, the better they will be able to protect patients

Preparing your team to respond to and recover from unexpected situations is vital. “You cannot take this lightly,” says UMCEP’s Mielke. “We can’t be Pollyanna about this anymore. We have to be prepared.”

More Emergency Preparedness Resources

These documents offer more details for preparing your healthcare organization in case of an emergency:

This article provides general information and is not intended to replace professional and personalized safety, legal or insurance advice. Consult with your own advisors and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements when creating or updating your emergency and disaster plans.

Related Resources:


Are you having trouble finding the right talent to care for your patients and residents? Download our eBook, “A New Way to Look at Recruiting: Think Bigger and Broader,” for strategies you can use.

About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based business and brand journalist who has covered healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema, and co-authored the award-winning teen writing book, Be a Better Writer. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.