In the last blog post, Is Your Organization Prepared for a Disaster, we took a 50,000-foot view of emergency preparedness, emergency management/business continuity programs, and the hazard assessments that drive them all. Each of these serves as critical components in an organization’s overall preparedness for disasters if or when they occur, but in this blog post we will look at the engine that drives them; people.
When disasters strike, it is people and not policies that respond and meet the challenges. Therefore, it is important that organizations not only properly prepare their staff to respond to a myriad of disaster types, but that they also engage their staff in all aspects of their emergency management and business continuity programs. While the development, implementation, and annual updating of emergency operations plans (EOPs) and continuity of operations plans (COOPs) and/or business continuity plan (BCPs) are often carried out by a single individual, or even a small committee, the execution of the procedures are an all hands-on-deck affair that will require every last staff member. To complicate matters even more, essential and non-essential tasks can be drastically altered, and new critical tasks established. Consider that in a significant event, non-clinical staff might be called upon to interact much more directly with patients and their families, and clinical staff that are deemed non-essential for that specific event or time period might be better utilized in non-clinical roles or even in very basic clinical roles. In fact, I remember an event when a surgeon, who’s very specific skill set was not needed during a disaster event, took on the duties of triage and vitals in order to free up other direct patient care providers.
So how do we create teams that have the necessary skills, agility, and confidence to excel in disaster events? Go beyond simply telling your staff about the policies and procedures. Go beyond a check-the-box understanding of the organizations EOP (that five-slide presentation and maybe two or three questions that everyone shares the answers to anyways). Bake staff into the planning at all levels and at all steps. Develop a culture around preparedness. Ask for their input. Value their perspectives. Recognize that each staff member has a unique understanding of how everything actually works (not how we think things work…maybe that in another blog). When staff are engaged in the process they not only better understand it, and take ownership of it, they help the organization (or that one lucky person tasked with writing all the plans) expose gaps, identify needs, and disprove or validate assumptions.
If you are reading this, and you are that one lucky person tasked with writing all the plans, recognize that you are likely surrounded by a lot of people who are VERY interested in what you do and would love to be involved at some level. Capture this enthusiasm. You might not be able to bottle it, but you can certainly foster it. Ask for volunteers. Delegate small tasks (and then if you are lucky, larger tasks when they do a good job). Give staff a meaningful and rewarding way to contribute as well as something to be proud of. Create a team (not another committee…that is an enthusiasm buster). Start a disaster response team (DRT) or an incident management team (IMT). Design and issue a team t-shirt…cool t-shirts go a long way. Bring the team together to brainstorm on issues, needs, gaps, resources, etc. Allow the team to become the disaster preparedness and response subject matter experts for the organization (this is really important considering they are already your subject matter experts for the organization’s normal, daily operations, right)? Task the team with creating and testing policies and procedures/instruction manuals for key disaster responses. Allow the team to present to the staff. Ensure that the team is involved in all aspects of plan revisions, training, drills, and exercises. And maybe most importantly, allow them to develop cohesion during “normal” days so that they can excel as a team during the significant challenges that disasters present.
So, there it is. Go get after it and start team building!
Still have questions about how to get started? Contact me and we will get you up and running in no time.
Until next time, stay safe!
Article by DJ Phalen, MA, BSPH, CHPP, EMT, NHDP-BC, CHSO, TLO, of our parent company Health Center Partners
DJ Phalen serves as the Emergency Management, Security, and Facilities Manager for Health Center Partners of Southern California (HCP). In this role, DJ represents the HCP family of companies as well as member community health centers in San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties at the local, county, and state level, and supports preparation for public health emergencies through the Emergency Preparedness and Response Program.