HAP Blog

Learning from a Chaotic Year

The past year challenged emergency managers in ways we never expected. Here’s what we learned.

January 05, 2022

As we begin the New Year, I can’t help but reflect on the monumental year that 2021 proved to be.

I think many of us in the emergency management field had more “never saw that before” moments than we thought we’d experience during our entire careers, let alone during one year. It’s a humbling reminder of the importance of the work we do—and somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. But as professionals, we look for the learning opportunities presented by tough situations so we can apply those lessons to our future planning and responses. It’s what we do.

It goes without saying that the health care community’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic tops the list for 2021. We’ve learned many lessons—some the hard way—and continue to learn more each day. The effects that social determinants of health, politics, human nature, social media, and misinformation have on public health response efforts is something that can’t be ignored. For many of us, seeing how these factors shaped the COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call and these considerations will be important to future planning. It’s safe to say that many pandemic plans will be ready for edits once we get a chance to review our after action reports.

While COVID-19 dominated much of our time and energy, nowhere is it written that your health care system can only experience one disaster at a time. This reality proved true for many of us during 2021. Unprecedented weather disasters, including tornados, hurricanes, and flooding put additional strain on an already challenged system. Attacks on our network and technology infrastructure became more common as cyber criminals sought out vulnerabilities to exploit. The physical security of our health care infrastructure—long considered a “soft target”—was brought to the forefront as we saw terroristic threats and acts directed toward hospitals at home and around the world. Adding to the picture were the lingering effects of supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. All of these factors reminded us that “all hazards” planning and response is of utmost importance and that we need to remain vigilant.

Among the challenges of the past year, there were also a number of bright points. From our perspective at HAP, we witnessed health care systems come together to look for solutions to logistics challenges. We saw hospitals exercise mutual aid agreements to come to each other’s rescue when things weren’t going quite right. We stood with you as you came together to collectively voice the health care community’s needs to our state and federal governments. Sometimes even the little accomplishments bring the most satisfaction when big wins are hard to come by.

While we are undoubtedly glad to have put 2021 behind us, we need to look forward in an optimistic, but cautious, manner. We know that the change in date doesn’t change the reality we face. We may be a bit battered, but we are better for what we have learned, and we’ll apply the knowledge we have gained. The next emergency incident is just a text alert away.



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