Are Hospitals Really Safe in a Weather-Related Crisis?

When weather-related disasters occur, people often head to a nearby hospital to seek safety and shelter from the impending storm. Although a hospital may seem to be the best place to go during a storm, Consumer Reports has proven that this might not be the best option. Its studies show that many hospitals have outdated generators and that there are several other complications within the buildings. The problem may become worse if during the disaster the electricity in the area turns off, since the generators are in question. Listed below are the statistics, which have been recorded from recent meteorological disasters.

Who is At Risk in the United States?
In 2013, there were 28 natural disasters in the United States. Of those, 15 were meteorological (storms), seven were hydrological (slides or floods), and six were climatological (droughts, wildfires, and extreme temperatures). The top five states that were at risk, in order from most to least, were: New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama. The property damage from the years 2006-2013 ranged from $26.4 billion in New Jersey to $4.9 billion in Alabama. Missouri had $4.9 billion dollars of damage, topped by Tennessee at $5.1 billion and Texas at $23.7 billion.

Listed below are statistics of the top five at-risk states:

  • New Jersey had 87 weather-related fatalities. The state's most frequent disasters were caused by floods, flash floods, winter storms, and damaging winds.
  • Although Texas was second in property damage, 313 people died from catastrophes due to tornadoes, flash floods, drought, hail, and thunderstorms.
  • While Tennessee had only $5.1 billion in property damage, 244 people lost their lives in storms. The state's most frequent disasters include winter storms, tornadoes, and thunderstorms.
  • Alabama, with $4.9 billion in estimated property damage, had 333 reported fatalities.
  • Missouri had 346 casualties resulting from hail, thunderstorms, winter storms, floods, and tornadoes.

Why Are Hospitals Unsafe?
Consumer Reports did a study on hospital generators and found that many of them were more than 50 years old. The magazine's main concern was that with the loss of power, the electricity and water would be lost. Generators in most cases were housed unprotected in the hospital's basement so in case of a flood, they would easily be exposed to water. Consumer Reports also found that there were no regulations for the installation of backup generators and that the information is not made public when generators fail testing.

Other challenges for hospitals were losing their infrastructure, for example electronic records, and a lack of workers due to injury, sickness, loss of transportation, and injuries. Another issue was an increase of patients suffering from injuries or severe illnesses. Patients cannot be relocated to alternate facilities because they are not equipped to care for extra people.

Three major natural disasters in the United States--"Superstorm" Sandy, Hurricane Andrew, and Hurricane Katrina--produced a tremendous amount of damage, which showed that the United States needs to implicate a better infrastructure and an improved management system in hospitals. Due to these storms, some hospitals have taken steps to improve their emergency plans.

Emergency Security Factors
A hospital emergency plan begins with mitigation, which includes identifying the largest three to five hazardous vulnerabilities for the hospital and following plans that are drafted to deal with identified risks. In preparing hospitals for emergencies, the Joint Commission recommends the following for generators:

  • Testing backup diesel generators 12 times per year for 30 minutes each.
  • Testing backup generators one time every three years, for four hours.
  • Generators must be able to produce power within 10 seconds to critical areas of the hospital's grid.

From that point forward, appropriate hospital preparations need to be drafted. National incident management systems need to be arranged in order to help physicians and other medical staff perform suitable triage procedures. Proper response management is another critical part of the plans. It will help to determine exactly what steps need to be taken to manage damage and properly rectify situations. For more information on hospital safety in times of natural disasters, Eastern Kentucky University created a detailed infographic on the subject.

Posted on Jul 20, 2015

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