How Facilities Managers Can Better Prepare for Emergencies

Scott Cormier discusses how facility managers can weather the next storm.

By Mackenna Moralez
May 18, 2022

With the rise of extreme weather events, it is essential that healthcare facility managers are ready to handle crises. Emergency preparedness is becoming a higher priority, and facilities must be available to provide care for those who are impacted by these events. Scott Cormier, vice president of emergency management, EC, and Safety, Medxcel, discusses how healthcare facility managers can prepare hospitals physically and financially during the Healthcare Facilities Summit: Maintaining Health and Safety in Healthcare Facilities on May 25. Healthcare Facilities Today spoke with Cormier ahead of his presentation on how facilities managers can weather the next storm.  

HFT: How can facility managers ensure buildings and organizations are ready to handle crises? What do healthcare facilities risk if an emergency plan isn’t regularly practiced? 

Cormier: The four phases of emergency management are mitigation, planning, response, and recovery, and they are the key components of a crisis program. More important is the need for senior leadership to understand the importance of an effective emergency management program. It is common for leadership to view emergency management as a regulatory and revenue depleting program, and therefore do not rightsize that department. COVID-19 was a great example of not being prepared, with hospitals struggling to obtain PPE, reconfigure their hospitals for an exponential increase in patients, and understand how to have safe operating rooms with COVID-19-positive patients. When I say rightsize, it means not only being too small but being too large. Sometimes, a facility will overreact to a crisis failure and overspend on an emergency management program only to cut it after a few years. Once you get leadership buy-in and support, then you need to do a hazard and vulnerability assessment. We use a free tool developed by the federal government called RISC (Risk Identification and Site Criticality). It gives an objective view based upon 20-plus years of data. After you identify your risks, then you decide where to reduce risk through mitigation and create plans to respond and continue operations during a disaster. 

HFT: What should be included in an emergency plan? How can healthcare facilities best implement these strategies? 

Cormier: We use the term all-hazards plan, and some people think it’s an answer to any disaster. What it really means is that for any disaster, we have a common process in the early stages of the event: acknowledging there is a disaster, making notifications, communicating with internal and external partners, and coordinating resources. We then write specific plans for our top hazards and vulnerabilities, such as a tornado, hurricane or mass causality incident. The plan also includes resources and contact lists to respond to other events. 

HFT: Are there different stages to an emergency preparedness plan? How do you know which one to implement? 

Cormier: We have levels of response based upon the size of an incident. At Medxcel, we use three levels. A Level 1 response means we can handle the crisis with staff and supplies on-hand, and we may not open our incident command center. A Level 2 response means the facility will need additional resources internally or may have an impact that would necessitate that need, such as a tornado warning. A Level 3 response means the crisis is having a significant impact on operations and requires internal and external resources to respond. 

HFT: How can healthcare facilities continue to ensure the safety of patients during these emergencies? 

Cormier: Healthcare facilities need to understand that during a disaster, they are a critical asset to their community. Closing or curtailing services because you do not have an adequate plan or resources is not an option. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a good reminder that healthcare facility emergency plans should not be based on “someone will come and help us.” We need to be resilient and have a proper plan and process to ensure we are making the right decisions so we can continue to be that critical asset to our communities, as well as protect our patients and staff. 

Mackenna Moralez is assistant editor with Healthcare Facilities Today. 

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