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Emergency Management Goes Full-Time

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Some hospitals are dedicating a position to preparedness. Use these best practices to define the role.

Emergency planning is taking on a life of its own in many hospitals, just as the safety officer's job evolved over the years to reflect today's complicated system of environmental health and safety. Emergency preparedness covers a similarly complex system of regulations and standards that overlap with traditional safety concerns.

Throw in necessary networking with local, state, and federal health authorities and emergency responders—and perhaps even some grant writing—and it's no wonder that hospitals are now breaking out emergency management job duties into a separate full-time position.

Inside or out?
Hiring an emergency management coordinator begins long before the candidate search, as a hospital must define what tasks the job will entail. Then comes the next question: Hire from within or outside the hospital? William Smith at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was one of those "from within" hires. In October 2007, Smith changed from environmental health and safety director to senior director of emergency preparedness for the 16-hospital system. Each staff member involved with emergency preparedness for the individual hospitals within the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center system reports to him. Smith says that safety managers as well as emergency responders probably are the most natural fit for these new positions.

"I think when people have had the environment of care responsibility, they either have been forced to or desire to understand emergency management and what The Joint Commission and federal government [are] looking for," Smith says. "They seem to have the most exposure to it, historically."

The rapidly evolving career path of emergency management will soon have federal credentialing, which is under development by George Washington University in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, says Cheri Hummel, vice president of disaster preparedness for the California Hospital Association.

The ideal candidate
Smith and Hummel suggest the following qualifications in a potential hire:

Familiarity with the disaster response principles. The Hospital Incident Command System, National Incident Management System, and healthcare emergency management strategies—as opposed to emergency medical services experience—all serve as good background preparation.

An outgoing personality. Emergency management coordinators must be able to convince people to take on responsibilities within the hospital environment and interface with other responders and public health agencies outside the hospital. They must also be comfortable reporting progress to hospital administrators, The Joint Commission, and OSHA.

Team-building skills. The coordinator must be able to organize and build working groups.

Educational knowledge. This position may administer or oversee relevant training to employees regarding their roles in disaster response.

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