Practical Preparedness for Health Care Professionals
Many health care professionals, particularly those who volunteer with their professional organizations, can prepare practically for disasters prior to the immediate need. In so doing you will want to keep the following in mind:
- Consult available guidelines for compiling medical equipment and supplies. These may be transported in a camera bag instead of the more traditional physician or nurse’s bag.
- Communications needs are essential in health care within a disaster zone, and traditional methods of communication may no longer work. Broadband internet (cable modem and DSL), landline telephones, and cell phones all failed in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Consult with disaster relief agencies appropriate to your profession to prepare yourself for communication during disaster work.
- Travel and transportation are often compromised during disasters. Acquaint yourself with disaster status briefing sources in the State of Georgia, such as Georgia 911, so that you may plan accordingly for travel to, and movement within, the disaster area. You may also want to have a bicycle available for local transportation.
- Anticipate flexibility around your place of service. Your health care office may be unusable after a disaster. Even if the structure is undamaged, loss of power and ventilation may prohibit seeing patients there. Consider alternative options for practice space in advance of a disaster, and again, contact your state professional association to see about organized alternative office facilities in the event of a disaster.
- Even a relatively minor disaster can cause loss of electricity for prolonged periods, and a major event such as a Category Four Hurricane can destroy the electric grid for three months or longer. A generator can improve quality of life and quality of practice while potentially reducing losses after a disaster.
- All families should prepare for disaster by having essential documents consolidated and readily available. Health care professionals, however, need to anticipate that copies of your credentials, licenses, and hospital photo identification may be necessary for practice during times of disaster. You might consider preparing a folder with copies of DEA license, state controlled substance license, current CV, malpractice insurance face sheet, information on prior policies, CLIA papers, medical school diploma, residency certificate, board certification, and other credentialing documents. You should also anticipate caring for patient records during times of disaster.
- Most insurance policies have specific coverage and exclusions. It is a good idea to scrutinize policies before a disaster to determine potential gaps in coverage, as well as to maximize return on losses afterward.
- Disaster-related travel and practice presents some unique and significant personal health risks. Being aware of these can contribute to your sense of preparedness in the event of a disaster.
Of course, along with physical preparedness it is essential to educate yourself about potential disasters in your area, to make disaster preparedness and intervention part of your professional identity, and most importantly to develop personal stress-management, coping, and resiliency practices to enable you to do your important work during and after disasters.