Prepping for Disaster

June 24, 2011
At Intermountain Health Care (IHC), the notion of planning for the worst but hoping for the best is not just a simple adage, it's a way of life. The

At Intermountain Health Care (IHC), the notion of planning for the worst but hoping for the best is not just a simple adage, it's a way of life. The Salt Lake City health system has been living those words for quite some time, only it's been doing so the hard way.

Whether preparing for an earthquake, flood or extreme snowstorm, IHC has been getting ready by performing manual hazard vulnerability analyses. Two years ago, though, things changed when Los Angeles-based PortBlue stepped in and suggested the 21-hospital health system computerize the process. The vendor then asked if IHC would test a hospital incident response system in return for a reduced cost.

PortBlue's CommandAware system provided a less cumbersome computerized approach to "the pen and pencil process we've used for years," says Michael Rawson, corporate director of safety, security and environmental health at IHC. Based on emergency type, the customizable Web-based program provides accessible 24/7 incident-specific guidance, which prompts hospital staff with checks and balances to ensure seamless event tracking.

With hospitals varying in size from 20 beds to 520 beds across southern Idaho and Utah, managing staffing, patient load and resources was key. IHC's Fillmore, Utah hospital has two staff members in the middle of the night, and Rawson is quick to point out that if there was a severe emergency, the facility would experience a huge influx of patients and the inevitable confusion that would follow.

"How do you deal with employees who are off duty who respond to an emergency?" he asks. "Can an ICU nurse be deployed in the emergency center?"

Rawson, who looks forward to seeing the final version of the system, advises others embarking on such a project to involve the whole team from IT to disaster planners to administration, safety and security people from the beginning.

Author Information:Stacey Kramer

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