The hospital was in dire need of places to store and deploy emergency supplies and equipment. (Justrite Manufacturing Co. photo)

Storage: Vital to Emergency Preparedness

Pieper was troubled by a recurring problem: The hospital was in dire need of places to store and deploy emergency supplies and equipment.

A siren blares in the night or at mid-day. An emergency is occurring, and our first responders spring into action because they're prepared.

What does emergency preparedness mean? It means anticipating any situation that puts one in harm's way and then providing the means to cope with that situation. Fire, flood, earthquake, explosion, volcanic eruption, hurricane, tornado, lighting strikes, power failure, snowstorm, or blizzard -- whether on the job, at home, while traveling, or attending a Major League Baseball game, all of these disasters evoke images of destruction and emotional turmoil.

What about medical occurrences, be they heart attacks, strokes, or something else. All of these speak "emergency." How about terrorism in its many forms? Reports of these kinds of events scream at us daily on the web, TV, radio, and in magazines and our daily newspapers. Armed with information, we try to "be ready." We stock up on supplies and equipment; we plan evacuation routes. We hold drills to practice for these disasters. Our plans depend on where we are, and needs differ in different occupancies.

Let's look in on a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Long Beach, Calif. Emergency Preparedness Manager Eric Pieper and his team had their plans in place. They knew their roles and the role of the first responders who would join them. The appropriate protocols had been established for a myriad of different disaster scenarios. Drills were held on a regular basis, and every aspect of each drill was examined, evaluated, and graded.

Pieper was troubled, however, by a recurring problem that was common to all of the drills: The hospital was in dire need of places to store and deploy emergency supplies and equipment throughout the facility. Time lost in getting to these items only worsened the consequences of a potential disaster.

High Visibility
He went to work with his staff. They analyzed what supplies and equipment would be needed and determined the best strategic locations for storage and deployment. This list included hard hats, high-visibility vests, leather and waterproof gloves, headlights with batteries, light sticks, Mylar blankets, spill kits, over-the-shoe boots, first aid kits, safety goggles, N95 face masks, eyewash, and "Do Not Enter" tape. Then they began to develop specifications for a storage cabinet. The basics were obvious: Fire resistance was a must, seismic protection was needed, and strength and durability were required. The cabinet must be secure yet easily opened in an emergency. A three-point stainless steel latching system with a locking handle met the need. Duplicate keys assured a backup was available if needed.

Visibility was extremely important. Anticipated power outages meant supplies had to be located in the dark. GloAlert glow-in-the dark identification labels were needed to facilitate quick location during an emergency. In light conditions, a powder-coat, high-visibility orange finish was determined to be needed to raise awareness levels and make these emergency supplies quickly accessible. (Within the facility, only the "Emergency Preparedness Cabinets" have this orange finish, making them stand out from other types of storage cabinets.)

Among other items to be stored in the cabinets are radios, flashlights, and walkie-talkies. They must remain charged and ready for use at all times, so the solution was a built-in power port. The cabinet must be equipped with an electrical pass-through connection, including an external power cord and 10-Amp rated, six-outlet power strip.

With these specs in hand, Pieper began his search for a vendor and found one with the help of the government account office of a large MRO distributor. A final design was approved, a contract was let, and manufacturing began.

By February 2012, 50 of the unique emergency preparedness cabinets had been deployed throughout the Long Beach facility, Pieper said. They have been well received by the hospital staff, and a troubling problem has been eliminated. Going forward, EMS personnel are responsible for maintenance.

When it comes to emergency management, the old adage "practice makes perfect" is more like "practice helps make perfect." The very nature of disasters sometimes uncovers unforeseen circumstances, so "perfect" might be difficult to achieve. However, mitigating hindrances by using practice drills to uncover and solve potential issues -- such as having segregated, dedicated storage for emergency supplies -- goes a long way in helping emergency responders do their work of assisting and protecting people during difficult times.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Mike Baldwin is vice president of Sales and Marketing for Justrite Manufacturing Co., a steel safety cabinet manufacturer with more than 100 years of experience in the safety industry. It is a leading manufacturer of flammable and hazardous materials storage equipment and has been in business since 1906. Baldwin has more than 32 years of experience in the industry on both the distribution and manufacturing sides.

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