April 16, 2019 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance
Natural and human-made disasters can strain the capacity of healthcare facilities, disrupt care and treatment, and create potentially life-threatening situations. During a disaster, a healthcare organization may encounter many challenges, such as a large influx of patients, insufficient staff to treat patients because additional staff are unable to reach the facility, and an impaired ability to care for patients because the facility has been damaged, as well as many other unexpected difficulties. Preserving continuity of care to patients during an emergency or disaster depends on an effective organizational response.
A disaster is a natural or human-made event that does any of the following:
Disasters often extend beyond the organization into the broader community (e.g., wildfires, widespread flooding, mass-casualty events).
As noted in the interactive Types of External Emergencies and Disasters, there are many kinds of disasters. Natural disasters may involve geologic forces (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, landslides, mudflows) or the weather (hurricanes, tornados, windstorms, blizzards, dust storms, heat waves, forest fires, wildfires). Disasters can also be medical (influenza or tuberculosis epidemic) or caused by humans, such as armed conflicts or active shooters, riots, technological disasters such as ransomware attacks, and bioterrorism attacks such as anthrax or smallpox.
A disaster can be localized and internal to the healthcare organization, such as a bomb threat, hostage situation, limited hazardous material release, loss of medical gases, worker strike, fire, or loss of utilities. Or it can be external, causing regional or community-wide infrastructure damage that would affect more than just the facility (e.g., flooding, damaging winds).
Sometimes, the healthcare organization might even be used as a refuge for displaced people. Many disasters will involve mass casualties; this type of event strains all functions at a hospital. For more information on handling mass-casualty events, listen to the webinar from ASPR TRACIE (Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange) called Healthcare Response to No-Notice Incident: Las Vegas to learn how multiple hospitals responded to the mass shooting on October 1, 2017. Hospitals need to ask when, not whether, a disaster will strike, and be prepared to respond effectively. See Resource List...