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Eight Years After 9/11, Disaster Response Lessons Still Hold True

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, September 11, 2009

For CEOs, emergency management lessons learned from the September 11 terrorist attacks remain relevant.

In the eight years since that infamous day, the United States has seen other disasters, and the same lessons seem to come up over and over again—which makes the September 11 anniversary a good opportunity to review the following emergency planning concerns:

Communication failures: During the attacks in New York City, so many people went on their mobile phones that the city's cell network became overloaded and slowed down. Meanwhile, incident commanders had trouble contacting emergency responders at the World Trade Center.

Such problems continue to haunt hospitals caught in the midst of emergency response. Just last month, an extensive New York Times article illustrated how healthcare workers at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans were isolated from the outside world after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005, in part because communication ability was limited.

It bears repeating that redundant communication options must exist in hospital emergency operation plans that reach beyond telephones and two-way radios. Recently, we've seen how some hospitals use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep employees and the public abreast of emergency response activities. With The Joint Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on social media sites, can hospitals afford to ignore that medium?

Flexible emergency responses: After the World Trade Center was attacked, hospitals throughout the Northeast prepared for surges of victims. Such demands were overestimated, as many victims never made it to triage, proving that ERs must have the ability to ebb and flow with the particulars of a disaster.

Earlier this year, hospitals in New York City again braced for the worst after a US Airways jet made a splashdown in the Hudson River. Luckily, all of the passengers survived and there were relatively few injuries, so hospitals had to scale back their responses.

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