What We Learned from Tropical Storm Ida
Use your time between emergencies to get prepared
September 30, 2021
A simple fact that’s true for all emergency managers: how we use our time between emergencies determines our success during the next one.
We are thankful that we are not always in the throes of a severe weather emergency like a blizzard, a hurricane, or a once-in-a-generation flood. But when these events happen, they provide us with opportunities to learn. Thinking critically about our emergency response prevents us from making the same mistakes over and over.
Last month, Tropical Storm Ida arrived in Pennsylvania, dumping two months’ worth of rain in the span of single day in some parts of the state. In addition to the torrential rain, Pennsylvania saw four confirmed tornadoes touch down with gusts ranging up to 111–135 miles per hour. Estimated damages from the storm have surpassed $100 million.
At HAP and HAPevolve, our emergency management team is dedicated to helping the health care community prepare for emergencies. In Ida’s wake, we surveyed our outstanding emergency management colleagues to learn more about their response to the storm.
Here’s what we learned:
Staffing is a top challenge
Severe storms create difficulties on all sides, and the effects stretch beyond the potential physical damage they do to your facility through structural damage, power outages, and flooding.
In our survey, staffing emerged as the top challenge from Ida.
Many hospitals are facing significant staffing shortages due to COVID-19. The storm added another layer, illustrating why we need plans to protect our workers and ensure we have enough personnel ready to care for patients.
Automating some of your decision-making helps during a storm. Setting clear thresholds for staff to work from home is just one example. The National Weather Service (NWS) risk categories can provide you with benchmarks for assigned staff to work from home. For those who are ineligible for remote work, provide overnight accommodations, either on-site or locally for people in life-safety roles.
The flow of information is everything
Information is power during a storm—for you, your staff, and your community.
As Tropical Storm Ida arrived, our emergency managers navigated a stream of constantly breaking news. This included updates from the NWS, community reports about flooded roadways and emergency rescues, and notes from staff about facility-specific challenges, such as power outages and generator needs.
Each piece of new information provided more context for our emergency managers to make smart decisions and put their emergency plans into action. You need a communications plan to triage the flow of information and to provide updates to your community.
Getting the full picture during a crisis comes with a clear network of partners who know to coordinate with one another. It’s one thing to have the key details about the storm; it’s another to share those details with the right people in your network.
Simple strategies that work
Sometimes, the most basic prevention efforts give you the biggest impact.
Our facilities readied for the storm with a few commonsense measures, such as clearing drains and gutters of any debris that could cause a backup of water. It sounds simple, but a clogged drain can wreak havoc at your facility, causing widespread campus flooding that could have been prevented.
Take the time to go through your pre-storm checklist, and you’ll avoid other preventable mistakes.
I’ll close with another universal truth in emergency management: learning a back-up generator is broken is much less painful during the months before the storm than when you need it to power your facility.
If you or your organization would like to learn more about preparing for severe weather, HAPevolve resources are available to help. Contact HAP’s Emergency Management Team or HAPevolve for more information.