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Great Flood Trumps All Other Concerns

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, May 7, 2010

I had planned to write this week about Medicare fraud enforcement, but recent events have made that impossible. I live in Nashville, which got nearly 20 inches of rain in just more than a 24-hour period last Saturday and Sunday. I've never seen such devastation firsthand.

My family was lucky. We have a rental house and a house we're remodeling to move into, as well as our current house. Among all of those projects, we're pretty much tapped out financially. But we were in good shape to move into the new place next week, with both houses rented as of June 1. So much for security, or what we thought was security.

As I woke at 7 a.m. Sunday morning to rising water in the basement of the house we live in, I saw our world crumbling around us and our dreams in the balance. My wife and I started bailing out the basement while her stepbrothers gathered a sump pump and the last generator from Home Depot (our power was out too). It was futile. We soon began piling up our living space with all the stuff stored in the basement. Finally the rain stopped, and the floodwater stopped flowing in faster than we could get it out. I spent the next 72 hours in rubber boots and covered with mud, setting up sump pumps at the three houses by wading through waist-deep water with live extension cords, and hauling ruined stuff up from the depths. I have the battle wounds to show for it—raw rings around my legs from the rubber boots, and scratches and scrapes of all varieties. And we don't live anywhere near a body of water or any streams. Raging torrents of water just appeared everywhere.

I'll stop here and say that it may not sound like it, but we were lucky.

Many of our neighbors have not yet been able to reoccupy their houses because the water ruined their electrical panels and got into the living space. Many people in the area who do live near a body of water still haven't been able even to visit their homes. We're on water conservation because one of the two water treatment plants here was inundated and still hasn't yet been repaired.

We write here at HealthLeaders Media about the leadership planning necessary for vital services such as hospitals in the face of natural disasters like this. All of the hospitals in this area appear to have made it through largely unscathed. Why? Luck? That was part of it. But can you plan for a 500-year flood, as meteorologists are calling this event? Our hospitals did, and they're to be commended for being able to continue to operate during this dangerous flood.

In short, as a homeowner, you probably can't plan for such a flood--although we're sure going to try following this by installing permanent sump pumps (which, by the way, won't operate when the power's out) and purchasing a generator. But a hospital leader simply must take those steps of preparing for the unlikely. We didn't have time to do anything but react when the flood came. Neither will you. That's why your disaster plan must come up with every imaginable contingency so that resources will be available. What have you done to plan for the unlikely?

You never know when your disaster plan might be the only thing between you and oblivion.


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Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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