Preparing for the Worst: HR's Role

Lena J. Weiner, March 27, 2017

HR can be the make-or-break factor in a hospital's disaster preparedness plan. One emergency management professional explains how.

Larry Zacarese
Larry Zacarese

As Hurricane Sandy made its way north along the eastern seaboard in October 2012, one Long Island hospital's police force urgently made last-minute preparations for the coming storm.

Naturally, everyone was feeling a bit edgy, but after years of training alongside both hospital leadership and local law enforcement, the team was ready.

It's a good thing it was, says Larry Zacarese, JD, MPA, CHSP, CHCM, EMT-P, assistant chief of police and director of emergency management at Stony Brook Medicine, a 603-bed facility with over 6,000 employees.

"It was everything you wouldn't want to deal with in a 48-hour period," he says. During the worst of the super storm's onslaught, Stony Brook Medicine's campus, which also houses Stony Brook University, experienced a major network outage. Internet, cable, and phones went dead for 30 hours.

Adding insult to injury, an instrumental part of the hospital's power grid failed during the storm, leaving the entire campus, including the hospital, in the dark for 37 minutes.

But hospital leadership's preparation, its strong relationship with local law enforcement, and the involvement of HR and administrative workers, the hospital was able to get the lights back on, keep the hospital staffed, and be there for the patients.

Whether a disaster is in the form of a hurricane, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a snowstorm, or something else, hospitals need to be prepared. Here are Zacarese's top tips regarding what HR can do to help get the entire hospital on track.

1. Organize Trainings

The most important thing HR can do to establish readiness is training workers for the worst before it happens, says Zacarese. "You should be doing tabletops and post mortems after incidents."

And don't be shy about advocating for increased funding for hospital safety and disaster preparedness initiatives.

Safety and security are often among most important things to be funded that don't get proper funding, says Zacarese.

"It might be costly, but it's well worth the investment. As an attorney, I can tell you that it can pay dividends in front of a jury."

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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