Blog – Disaster Preparedness

Why Hospital Preparedness is Key: Learning from Hurricane Sandy

The staff at major New York medical institutions learned a hard lesson when Hurricane Sandy hit in late October 2012: they weren’t ready. The experiences that the medical centers underwent serve as good reminders as to why a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan is essential to successfully weather any storm.

A Tale of Three Hospitals

New York University Langone Medical Center

Staff at New York University’s Langone Medical Center followed the disaster preparedness plan when it started evacuating the first of its 300 patients upon the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Everyone thought the hospital was ready for the big storm until its generator lost power at the height of the turbulent events. Rescue workers and hospital staff spent hours going up and down dark flights of stairs to evacuate the remaining patients and their families.

Many individuals who had family members at NYU, including babies in the neonatal unit, didn’t learn about the evacuation until they heard about it on TV. It took hours for some to learn about a patient’s new location.

Coney Island Hospital

While Coney Island Hospital is further inland than other area facilities, floodwaters reached the ground-level emergency generators. When the flooding began, staff members worked hard to evacuate over 220 patients.

To prevent permanent damage, the hospital turned off the emergency generators for several hours. The floodwaters eventually inundated the hospital’s entire campus.

Shorefront Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care

Preparedness experts applaud the Shorefront Center in Brooklyn for how it handled Hurricane Sandy, despite being just yards from the ocean. The building’s design had disaster preparedness in mind as it aimed to exceed the 500-year floodplain by 3 feet. The hospital successfully weathered Sandy because its main floor is 30 feet above ground level and it had a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan in place that staff acted on days in advance. Shorefront’s readiness enabled it to help other medical facilities and the community by taking in evacuated patients and offering support to emergency workers.

Hospital Disaster Preparedness Plan

Hospitals have a unique set of considerations to include in a disaster plan. With medical facilities playing an important role in their respective communities when there’s a large-scale emergency, it’s important for them to maintain a standby role for patients and those who seek shelter.

The American Hospital Association states that the following elements are items that hospitals should include in a preparedness plan:

  • Community disaster plans for different types of threats
  • Backup generators
  • Staff training and drills
  • Communications system for staff, patients, families, media, and community members
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Decontamination units
  • Extra pharmaceuticals and medical supplies
  • Disease surveillance and response systems
  • The ability to treat an influx of new patients

In the medical field, a lack of preparedness can have irreversible consequences. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, hospitals across the U.S. learned how failing to have a disaster plan could have devastating consequences. Years later, Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that hospitals still have room for improvement when preparing for a disaster. Communities and patients depend on medical facilities to prepare and recover from a disaster. With a disaster preparedness plan in place, hospitals can swiftly and effectively execute the plan to ensure that the health and safety of patients remain the number one priority.

Photo by Fotos GOVBA via CC license.

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