HAP Blog

Lessons in Situational Awareness

Preparing for crowds, protests, and other large gatherings near your facility starts with this core preparedness principle

December 14, 2021

What does it mean to be situationally aware?

When I think of situational awareness, I think of learning to drive and the instructor’s reminder to scan the rear view mirrors every five to eight seconds. When you lose sight of the road—to answer a text or reach for your EZ Pass—you’re losing awareness of your environment and your ability to react quickly.

Situational awareness is the bedrock principle of emergency preparedness that never goes out of style. We preach situational awareness because it is important, and it’s easy to understand why: constantly evaluating our surroundings helps us prepare and project our future needs.

In health care, our ability to evaluate our environment is spread thin, as we manage new COVID-19 challenges every day. Here’s an example of how situational awareness can help your hospital prepare for the unexpected.

A Crowd is Gathering

Let’s talk about large gatherings.

We know that we have to be cognizant of the potential for large gatherings outside our hospitals and health care facilities. Hospitals are anchors within their communities, and it is not uncommon for them to be places where people meet, protest, or organize. These events have the potential to disrupt your everyday hospital operations, and—depending on the size and scale—could pose security and safety risks for patients, staff, and your community.

Large gatherings usually don’t happen without at least some coordination. In many cases, local news reports, social media posts, and conversations among staff provide critical information that can help you prepare. This is a core part of your situational awareness.

If there’s a protest, a large gathering, or other large-scale event in your neighborhood, you can’t be caught by surprise. Having situational awareness for large-scale events near your facility gives you time to:

  • Alert your staff with best practices:  Does your staff know how to safely navigate a crowd? You should give staff instructions about what to expect and how to act if there is a disruption or protest outside. These preparations help your staff feel safe during uncertain times
  • Secure your facility:  Outline how a crowd outside your facility impacts your entrances and exits. Do you have contingency plans in case if there is overflow or blockages?
  • Coordinate a plan:  Working with local law enforcement and emergency managers ahead of time ensures everyone is responding with the same information

What Could Happen, But Hopefully Won’t

A core part of situational awareness is to project what could happen based on your environment or any sudden changes.

If you know there’s a potential for large crowds at your facility, you need to forecast what that could mean for your patients, your staff, and those in attendance. Even celebratory events like building dedications or promoted events like press conferences should spark your instincts to think ahead.

These preparations should include:

  • Evaluate your campus:  What areas of your campus would be vulnerable during a large gathering or event that got out of hand? Look at the temporary structures on your campus and see if they would be vulnerable to collapse if pushed
  • Dangers in crowds:  Unfortunately, vehicle ramming attacks are not new, and they’re virtually impossible to predict. Provide your staff with best practices to know what to do in the event of this sudden emergency situation and practice disaster drills for this and other worst-case scenarios
  • Entrances and exits, emergency coordination:  Always instill in your staff the importance of knowing nearby entrances and exits. If there was an event that required emergency vehicles, would you be able to quickly guide the emergency medical teams to the location or are there large barriers and blockades in the way?

Final thoughts

We know we can’t prepare for every scenario or understand the intentions of everyone we encounter, but situational awareness gives us the edge to control what we can.

There are times when we have to adjust our emergency plans to new information or think about the ways our environment has changed in an instant. Information is power for us to make the best choices we can when we are under duress. 

Put simply, we know we need to be mentally prepared and observant, and we have to keep our eyes on the road.

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