HAP Blog

Is Your Emergency Communications Plan Ready for Severe Weather?

Learn how to communicate before, during, and after the storm

July 15, 2021

The summer is upon us, and with that comes the increasing likelihood of severe weather. As storms swirl this summer, we know that our hospitals will remain open—and that we need to prepare for a host of weather-related emergencies. 

The numbers tell the story. During the past ten years, Pennsylvania has averaged:

  • 39 tornado warnings
  • 74 flood warnings
  • 501 severe thunderstorm warnings

Hospitals are more vulnerable than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the weather adds another layer of complexity to your emergency communications plans. With staff already stretched due to the pandemic, it is a critical for hospital leadership to have a plan for times of severe weather.

Let’s discuss some steps hospitals can take to improve communication before, during, and after the storm.

Before-Preparedness

You need to have a solid emergency communications plan and inclement weather policy—and use them! Your emergency communications plan should include steps for appropriate personnel to send status updates to staff and provide instructions or refresher trainings about evacuation procedures.

Follow these steps to better prepare for severe weather before the storm:

  • A strong emergency communications plan should provide step-by-step instructions to notify staff of emergencies electronically and non-electronically
  • Create message maps that can be ready to send immediately
  • Consider whether you need to update your existing emergency plans in light of lessons learned from COVID-19
  • Ensure everyone knows about the emergency communication plan and where to find it. Make the plan a part of your staff orientation. An electronic solution, such as HAPevolve’s Portable Response Emergency Plan, puts this critical information in one place for easy access
  • In your emergency communications plan, consider creating various tiers in response to severe weather. These could be based on potential impacts. This will determine which levels or methods of emergency communication are needed
  • Practice across all shifts. Conduct a tabletop or functional exercise that only focuses on the emergency communications plan or at least uses the plan as a component of the exercise. So many times, I hear first shift personnel say they know what to do in the event of an emergency. Then, I’ll ask staff on second and third shifts, and they don’t know what to do. Practicing across all shifts will avoid confusion in times of need
  • Develop a “check-in” system which allows staff to respond back to a centralized system alerting managers or response teams that they are okay

During-Response

Your staff need to be in-the-know when severe weather occurs. In a hospital setting, not all staff are nearby to receive direct communication about warnings or other action items. This is why it is important to prepare.

As you’re experiencing severe weather, consider the following:

  • If your facility is in the area of a truly severe storm and a high impact is likely, you need to get your message out quickly. Consider all the tools in your toolbox and how they fit into your communications plan, including text, digital signs, social media, robocalls, overhead speaker announcements, email, and direct messages through emergency health record systems
  • Ensure that messaging is clear and provides simple instructions. The communication should come from one source to avoid mixed-messaging
  • Make sure to repeat the information multiple times during the event to ensure that all staff receive the information
  • If you have a “check-in” system, utilize it to ensure staff are safe and accounted for. This is especially important for large hospitals

After-Recovery Assessment

Once the situation has ended and all systems are back to normal, assess what worked well and what didn’t. Doing this will help you improve for the next weather-related emergency.

Be sure to gauge interest from staff to hear from all levels. Here are a few tips for a great after-recovery assessment:

  • Conduct a staff survey to engage staff input on what went well and what could have been better. To generate the best feedback, make the survey anonymous. The best feedback during the incident will come from your staff with boots on the ground
  • Once a survey is completed, organize a meeting to review the results and look for issues that come up again and again. Prioritizing these issues will help guide your next steps
  • Complete an after-action report to document all the good and the bad. This report will inform your improvement plan and any changes you need to make for next time

It is clear that emergency communication is key to successfully managing these challenging weather events. Yet, time and time again, communications comes up as a weakness in our after-action reports. Taking these proactive steps can ensure your hospital is ready when the storms hit and the weather warms up.



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