By Don Ladner
Vizient Senior Consulting Director
It's a little after 4 p.m. on a quiet Friday afternoon and most of your team is about to close shop for the weekend. You decide to check the spaghetti models for Hurricane Katrina one last time before the weekend, and there it is: a drastic change in the projected path. The hurricane is headed straight for you, with landfall expected in 48 hours or less.
Your mind races with a million things that must be done immediately: alert administration, stop key personnel from leaving so they can help with preparations, activate the incident command center, activate Team A, contact key suppliers. Can you get your emergency medical supplies before the winds are too strong? Will your family stay or evacuate? Medications need to be pulled from free-standing clinics, and your disaster plan must be implemented now.
But the loudest thought is this: Have we prepared well enough to have everything we need in place in less than two days?
Are we ready?
If your organization is in an area prone to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, droughts, freezes and snowstorms, you probably have disaster plans in place. You have braced yourself for "that time of year." But natural disasters are more common and affect a larger geography than ever before. With manmade disasters like acts of terrorism, mass violence, cybersecurity threats and utility shutdowns also on the rise, "that time of year" could be any time of year.
Make disaster preparedness a focal point of your practice
Many disasters share similar destructive characteristics, but they can differ drastically in size, scope and duration. While you cannot prepare for every scenario, the more you try to anticipate every potential threat and identify solutions in advance, the better prepared you will be. Could there be standing flood water? What if there's no electricity for days or weeks? What if the roads are impassable, with the only way in or out being by boat or helicopter? Inoperable phone lines, no internet, leaking pipes, roofs torn off, shattered windows, destroyed buildings and homes, flooded generators, great loss of life, looting … all of these are possibilities.
As the list of potential threats grows and evolves, so should your disaster plan. Making disaster planning part of your organization's standard practice will ensure its effectiveness and improve outcomes for staff and patients. Preparing goes far beyond the most commonly discussed items such as food, water and medical supplies. Depending on the size, scope and duration of the disaster, those items will only scratch the surface of what is needed.
Every item on the non-medical supply list below was needed during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
What should go into your disaster planning?
Whether you are new to supply chain or you are a seasoned veteran, comparing your own disaster plan and task lists to the suggestions shared below could spark ideas or uncover missing pieces. Begin by building a master checklist and updating and revising it regularly. Some suggested inclusions:
- Keep an updated list of personnel on Team A and Team B.
- Determine where sequestered personnel will be housed.
- Have a plan for housing and feeding first responders.
- Talk to your local government about having the National Guard at your facility.
- Know where you can get additional clothing, scrubs and personal hygiene items.
- Be sure all in-place generators are elevated. Identify a source for additional portable generators that can be moved where needed. Large generators can be left on tractor trailers. Be sure all are filled with fuel.
- Secure an agreement with an industrial equipment rental company.
- Have an agreement with a local food distribution company.
- Lock down and plan security for pharmaceuticals at all off-site facilities.
- Identify a resource for additional security.
- Identify a source for ice — regular and dry.
- Have suppliers on retainer for fuel, water and environmental remediation.
- Have plans in place for overflow trash disposal and additional morgue space.
- Keep an updated evacuation plan for employees and patients should a facility become unsafe. This could involve building relationships with medical transportation providers, hotels, other hospitals, bus companies and even airlines.
- Download your item master file and vendor file.
- Review and update your manual PO process.
- Update and print copies of your key suppliers' emergency contact information.
Disasters affect people, not just supply chains
As an organizational leader, your responsibilities in a disaster extend beyond the tactical execution of your plan. The people on your teams have homes and families who also are impacted by the disaster. At times, they might be distracted, angry or afraid. They will not be effective if their own needs are not acknowledged and supported to the best of your ability. Building a solid team of individuals who trust and support each other is one of the biggest keys to success in a crisis, and it has to be established long before a disaster strikes.
But do not forget about your own personal team — your family. Do they have resources and support while you are in crisis mode at work? And be sure to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing throughout the ordeal. Take time now to learn and practice whatever personal tactics will keep you calm and grounded so you can lead your team successfully through a crisis when the time comes. Often, the more you prepare, the better you feel.
Pay it forward
If you are not seriously affected by a disaster in your area, reach out to your colleagues who were and offer your assistance. They may need your supplies, contacts, expertise, people and time. We all need each other, especially during disasters. Our alliances help us to serve our communities better than any of us could serve them alone.
Make the investment
If these lists seem overwhelming, remember two things. One, think about how overwhelming it would be to head into a disaster without a solid plan. And two, at some point in your career, a disaster of some kind is certainly coming. Make disaster preparedness part of your practice every year, all year.
Be thankful for the years that it feels like wasted time — the investment will pay off tremendously when you need it most.
About the author
Don Ladner has served as a senior consulting director with Vizient for the past four years. He has more than 38 years of experience in all aspects of healthcare supply chain with specific expertise in disaster planning and recovery. Ladner has led multiple supply chain disaster planning and recovery efforts, the most significant being Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. .