Article - March 16, 2020

How Hospitals Can Prepare for Severe Weather in a Time of Crisis

Courtland Keith

Courtland Keith

Industry Manager, Houston

IV in hospital corridor

While it’s hard to focus on anything but COVID-19, this year’s severe weather isn’t going anywhere. To help hospitals prepare for spring's severe weather, we’ve listed some steps so you can best distribute your resources and focus.

Across the world and increasingly in the United States, COVID-19 has made an impact on the way we’re all doing business. Resources are strapped, and time is a limited commodity. Normally, a hospital’s Emergency Managers can devote time every day to staying current on severe weather developments. In times like this, they barely have a minute to spare.

The timing of the outbreak couldn’t be worse. The United States is already seeing the typical severe weather of spring, marked by tornadoes in Nashville, flooding in Arizona, and severe thunderstorms across the country. Both severe weather and COVID-19 will impact how you focus resources for months to come. One misstep could have lasting impacts on the resiliency of your operations.

We understand it’s hard to think of anything else besides COVID-19 at the moment. To make it easier for you, here are some steps you can take to ensure you’re prepared and that your focus is distributed effectively:

Make sure your staff have up-to-date personal emergency plans

It’s not unusual that families of hospital staff might want to shelter at a hospital during a severe weather threat. Without a plan, you may find your hospital overrun when it is already stretched to its limits. You can avoid this scenario with a quick communication to your staff.

Make sure each staff member has a plan in place for where to shelter their families during severe weather. Clarify that the hospital will not have space for them to wait out the storm. In circumstances like what we’re facing today, remind staff that their families would be vulnerable to COVID-19 in any plan which incorporates a potentially crowded space.

Having personal emergency plans in place for staff enables you to focus on the crisis at hand, while giving your staff peace of mind knowing their families are protected. This allows them to focus on the care of their patients.

Be ready for potential power outages

With a direct link between COVID-19 mortality rates and the availability of life-supporting machines like ventilators, a power outage would be even more devastating if there is no immediate response ready. 

Have backup satellite phones ready to use and distribute in case you lose power and phone lines go down. Check that your backup power generators are functioning and able to last for an extended period of time. Know where you can reduce power consumption in case you need to divert resources to areas in critical need.

Build up emergency supplies where you can

In a time of crisis, supplies will likely be low for some time, especially if your vendors are also being impacted. While keeping supplies fully stocked may be difficult during the COVID-19 chaos, you should try to make space for severe weather event planning now so you’re not caught empty handed later.

Think ahead on what additional supplies you might need to accommodate severe weather such as linens, water, food, medicine, or general supplies. Consider how these stocks will be maintained over the next few months, and what steps you can take should supplies begin to run short.

Avoid overloading your maintenance crews

Your maintenance crews will also be running a pretty tight schedule over the coming months. A prepared crew will be able to manage their time in advance so that they are not overloaded with immediate needs at once.

The crew should be taking time now to ensure your system is functioning well and that there are no lingering needs that could become a headache later. Have the crew ensure your AC and filtration systems are fully functional; trim trees that could become hazards during a storm; and check windows for leaks and cracks. Service or repair any items that need it before a storm makes that impossible. 

Make sure your temporary structures are safe and secure

You may find yourself in a position where you need to build temporary structures such as tents to make up for a lack of available beds in your hospital. When planning the deployment of temporary structures, make sure your plan takes into account the variables that could create challenges.

For example, national weather services don’t often issue wind alerts for lower wind speeds, however the wind speed threshold for tents is between just 25 and 30 mph. Any higher wind speed could pull up or knock over tents—damaging essential supplies and injuring your staff and patients.

Regardless of forecasted wind speed, your temporary structures need to be secure. Tents should be ballasted and staked correctly. Crews responsible for building the temporary structures should be familiar with the design and setup of these structures. They should also be briefed on potential weather hazards, such as lightning, which should be factored in when planning the location and layout of the temporary structures.

Establish patient pick-up plans

Often a storm will reduce the mobility options of your patients—causing many to be stuck on-site while others are not able to get to the hospital at all. With resources stretched thin and bed availability in high-demand, getting your patients where they need to be will be a high priority. Develop a pick-up plan to empower you to move your patients as needed.

Your plan should include potential road hazards—identify areas that are prone to flooding or downed trees. Be aware of roads known for high traffic and avoid them where possible. Prioritize higher risk areas so that the patients most in need are addressed first.

We’re here to help

Whatever the eventual trajectory of the outbreak, you can expect that severe weather will not put itself on hold. Let StormGeo worry about weather tracking so you and your Emergency Managers don’t have to. We will monitor the weather for your specific location and keep you updated should anything arise. We will help you focus resources where you need it, when you need it.

This is a tough time for everyone, but we will get through it. However long the outbreak lasts, let’s get through it together.

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