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Close up of hands holding a tablet device that has an Emergency Preparedness Checklist open

All-Hazards Disaster Planning for Long-Term Care Facilities

The pandemic was different from any emergency we had ever faced and facilities were less than prepared for the repurcussions it caused. If there was ever a time to reevaluate processes and procedures and prepare for the future, it’s now. Learning from our past, we know the inclusion of epidemics and pandemics in our planning is critical to our future.

“All-hazards approach”

As healthcare professionals, you are responsible for human lives and need to proactively prepare for whatever comes your way. When planning for an emergency, you need to consider all possible factors, including your location. Depending on where your facility is located there will be unique hazards that could affect your plan. That’s where an “All-Hazards approach” to disaster planning comes in. When creating your plan, the first thing you need to do is complete a risk assessment to determine your risk to a myriad of hazards. Once you have a comprehensive list, you are ready to start planning. The “All- Hazards Planning” approach to your emergency plan allows you to respond to the emergency or disaster regardless of the cause. Although there are many different emergency and disaster situations, the effects of them are fairly similar which allows us to plan for many scenarios simultaneously using this approach.

Disaster planning

When creating your plan, refer to these 4 categories:

  1. Mitigation – Activities to eliminate or preclude the chance of an emergency or disaster before it happens.
  2. Preparedness – Repetitive drills, training, and planning with staff and residents to practice the desired response to an emergency.
  3. Response – Includes the reactions and organized actions of staff and residents when an emergency occurs.
  4. Recovery – Short-term and long-term activities immediately following an emergency to return all systems to their pre-emergency state.

It’s important to ensure you have an understanding of each of these categories in order to formulate your plan. It’s also equally important to ensure that while creating your plan, you are working with a diverse group of professionals to determine all of the potential “what if” scenarios. For example, administrative staff will think of different functions and resources than a nurse or an aide and this diversity will help to ensure your result is comprehensive.

Simultaneous disasters

In 2020, many facilities faced hurricanes on top of COVID-19. A hurricane will significantly impact evacuation plans and may even determine where you may need to shelter. Before the pandemic, we would not have imagined a scenario where facilities would be dealing with both a worldwide pandemic and a natural disaster at the same time. However, now that we know better, plans for the future must encompass all options. According to the Congressional Research Service, wildfires were at a record high in 2020 burning 10.27 M acres. Wildfires come with their own challenges; evacuation, staffing shortages, and air quality would all be impacted. Lastly, the blizzards of the Midwest and Northeast this winter also impacted facilities, including staffing and delivery of essential items, even affecting vaccine delivery at one point.

Learning from the past

It’s been over a year since the pandemic was announced and as we work our way back to “normal”, we must remember the lessons we have learned from this experience. We have gained a much better understanding of the vast resources that a future emergency may require, and we now know that each facility must take what we have learned this past year and apply it to our future preparations. We must learn from the missteps and triumphs of other facilities so we can all be better prepared for the next disaster.

For more information on creating an Emergency Prepardedness Plan

June 16, 2021