Securing hospitals in times of disaster

A look at how healthcare facilities should prepare for emergency management incidents

"The biggest issue I see from a non-clinical perspective is having enough isolation rooms," she said. "Most hospitals that I've encountered have a limited number of rooms that are equipped to do isolation. There is portable equipment that can be used with the help of your facilities department to create a temporary isolation room and you can even use it to take a whole wing or hallway and create an isolation space."

During the SARS outbreak several years back in Canada, Warren said hospitals there setup a triage unit in the parking lot to prevent cross contamination and also handed out the proper protective equipment to people.

The utilization of various communication methods can also be a big factor in notifying a hospital's staff about an impending emergency and getting them into the facility. While mass notification solutions are an option, Hebert said that mainstream and social media can also help get the word out to doctors and nurses. Having staff members provide their cell phone numbers to the hospital's command center is another option, according to Hebert.

If the hospital itself is damaged during a disaster, Warren says it's imperative to have good relationships with both in house resources and emergency responders.

"That's where that preplanning is so crucial. You need to have a secondary treatment site already identified that in a perfect world, you would be able to flip a switch and everything we did at the hospital we can do over at the secondary site," he said. "That is why it is so crucial that you practice, you do tabletops and you do drills."

Hebert said that this was also another valuable lesson learned by the industry in the wake of Katrina.

"The mitigation for the structure was by far the biggest lesson, in my opinion, that we learned," she said. "There are ways that you can shelter in place, but you have to make the investment in the building and in the stockpile of supplies or caches that you have in order to fulfill your mission in times of disaster. And that takes planning."