Disaster Plan – Are You Prepared?

September 12, 2017

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Is your team ready to weather the storm?

Wow, the past few weeks have been hammered with more than the usual amount of natural disasters. Now is the time to evaluate your hospital’s disaster plan – or create one!

September is National Preparedness Month. In my experience, very few veterinary hospitals have a disaster plan or team training; a travesty, as disasters occur everywhere and at any time.

The Institute for Business and Home Safety estimates that 25 percent of companies are unable to reopen after a major disaster. Unfortunately, businesses often consider the importance of disaster planning and emergency preparedness AFTER tragedy strikes.

Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) requires small businesses, which include veterinary hospitals, to create a fire prevention and emergency response plan. Hospitals with more than ten employees must have a written emergency action plan, however veterinary hospitals with fewer employees benefit from a written document, improving communication, defining expectations and outlining protocols.

OSHA provides resources and tool kits to assist you in designing a plan.  In addition, other resources can be obtained through your local, state and national veterinary organizations.

We can envision natural disasters as emergencies. But what about other circumstances that disrupt the veterinary hospital? Consider the uncooperative client or robbery at gun point (which has occurred!). Do you have protocols in place to assist your team in those cases?

The following is a list of potential disasters. What is the likelihood of one in your area? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help you determine historical disasters within your state. Identify and create a list that is relevant to your veterinary hospital.

  • Bomb threat or explosion
  • Carbon Monoxide Exposure
  • Dam Failure
  • Earthquake
  • Fire (inside or next door)
  • Flood
  • Hazardous Material spill
  • Hurricane
  • Landslide
  • Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
  • Power outage
  • Robbery / threats
  • Terrorism
  • Thunderstorm
  • Tornado
  • Volcano
  • Wildfire
  • Winter Storm (snow or ice)

Now that you have an idea of what may occur, how will you deal with it? Creating an Emergency Action Plan can be a big endeavor, yet required and in the best interest of your team, patients, clients and business.

Ideas to consider:

  • Identify a “Disaster Coordinator” or establish a Disaster Team for larger veterinary facilities.
  • Inform all employees of Emergency Guidelines, expectations and possible scenarios.
  • Consider a “Lunch and Learn” where a fireman or police officer discusses emergency evacuations and safety.
  • Design drills around a variety of scenarios.

It’s always a good idea to first verbally walk through an emergency situation, perhaps during a team meeting. Then when planning the physical drill, outline the event in advance, consider a light appointment schedule, hang a sign stating that your team is in training for anyone who walks in, and allow adequate time to allow a mock disaster to unfold. Finish with a debriefing of the drill so your team can learn and enhance the plan.

Drills can be simple such as turning out the lights for an hour and emulating a power outage. Or more complex drills can be established where you triage and evacuate animals (perhaps using stuffed animals for safety). Use your imagination and consider problems that may occur during the scenario.

Addition components that should be considered for your emergency plan include:

  • When to call 911.
  • Establish relationships with local fire departments and police.
  • Create a map of the facility with locations of fire extinguishers, exit routes and emergency gathering places outside of the building.
  • Generate a list of contact information (in case there is no electricity, thus no computers).
  • Set up a triage treatment area for evacuated animals.
  • Establish access to enough leashes and/or carriers for all animals.
  • How to turn off the oxygen in case of fire.
  • Identify a temporary facility (prearrange with nearby veterinary hospitals and/or boarding facilities).
  • Define protocols for preserving medical records.
  • Working flashlights (with extra batteries) or a gas-powered generator.

The most difficult conversation your team may have is around the topic of an immediate emergency evacuation with an anesthetized surgical patient. Who will make the medical decision? How will your team feel about walking away? This is a tough concept; however, human safety is PRIORITY. One technician stated, “I won’t leave!” Then there needs to be discussions around following protocols, liability risks and reality checks.

You can’t prepare for every single type of emergency. However, by having general plans in place, and training for basic emergencies, your team will be better able to adapt to any situation that comes their way. In light of the current hurricanes and earthquakes, now is a good time to evaluate your current emergency plan – or create one!

Yours in Disaster Planning,

Rebecca Rose, CVT

CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants