HAP Blog

What Does ‘All-hazards’ Planning Mean?

September 15, 2020

I’ve worked in emergency management in the Southeastern region of Pennsylvania for a long time. I feel like I’ve seen it all and planned for it all. In just our region alone, during the past decade, we experienced:

  • A papal visit
  • A major political party convention
  • A massive train derailment
  • Hurricanes and flooding
  • An Ebola outbreak

And just last month we experienced a tornado and derecho.

But, as I turned my calendar to September and saw that it is “Emergency Preparedness Month,” I had to do a double take. Not because my eyes are failing me, but because I felt like 2020 has been “Emergency Preparedness Year,” throwing us wild pitches that we never thought we’d have to hit. And yet, here we are.

If it feels like there’s a lot happening all at once, you’re not wrong. During September, alone, we have seen the convergence of many events that we prepare for:

  • An unpredictable pandemic
  • Peak hurricane season
  • Large protests
  • Flooding
  • Wildfires

An unpredictable world needs an all-hazards approach.

Emergency managers develop plans for each of these events through an approach we call, “All-Hazards Planning.” What does that mean? It means we do the sometimes-upsetting work of looking at each and every thing that might go wrong, analyzing it, and figuring out how a team or facility or government entity should plan for and respond to it.

This year has shown us that a cookie-cutter plan doesn’t suffice. As my colleague Jason wrote, we need nimble teams that can take the plans we have crafted and test them, and then adapt them to meet the moment. This means that plans have to be developed in consideration for facility-specific, local, and regional hazards and risks, acknowledging that nothing happens in a bubble.

Plan now, so you can react later.

By planning for those highest risks with the most significant potential impact, we are better prepared across the board by:

  • Having a framework and standard procedures for response (that can be applied to a wider range of events)
  • Having worked and consulted with local partners and emergency responders in planning (the relationships will benefit in any event encountered)
  • Having discussed potential hazards with staff and provided guidance about how to respond (which sparks interest among staff in learning more, and provides confidence that the organization is working toward a better response)
  • Having provided training to staff on roles and responsibilities in an emergency (that will benefit them and their patients/residents, regardless of the type of emergency encountered)

“All-hazards Planning” isn’t a crystal ball.

I want to be clear that planning for all hazards doesn’t mean having all the answers. As 2020 showed us, we won’t always know what will happen and when. But the more we do to plan ahead, the better we can help our hospitals, health care systems, and communities react during times of crisis.

We need to have a plan—and a team—with the experience and the knowledge to adapt. I’d love to live in a world where we could predict the course of every hurricane, flash flood, or pandemic. The truth is that we can’t. But that’s why we continuously plan, train, and exercise—and work with our members to identify new and better ways to do it.

Brian's experience includes 15 years in Emergency Medical Services and firefighting prior to receiving his nursing degree. For the past 16 years, Brian has worked in hospital and health care settings clinically as an ICU and ED nurse and clinical coordinator and also in administrative roles as an ED nursing director, clinical educator, and Assistant Chief Nursing Officer. He has also been responsible for health care emergency preparedness at his hospital facilities for many years, and has held health care coalition leadership positions as well. 

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