Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM

Just as Hurricane Katrina prompted discussion about emergency preparedness in 2005, Superstorm Sandy has re-ignited talks in the senior living communities about their ability to respond to disasters. When storm surges hit New York City last October, about 6,000 people were evacuated from various healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and adult day facilities.

It was a stark reminder that disasters take many forms, are unpredictable and represent significant risk. Disasters could one day affect your facility’s ability to continue ordinary operations, as well as your image, resident base and finances. To help you navigate a disaster successfully, it’s essential to examine lessons learned from past disasters and re-examine your own organizational plans.

Vulnerability Analysis

Planning is not just for large facilities with considerable resources. Even the smallest facility should have extensive plans. To prepare or update a disaster response plan, you should first do a vulnerability analysis that identifies all types of weather disasters that may occur – from earthquakes to hurricanes or tornadoes.

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December reminded us to consider other types of crises as well, such as armed intruders. One emergency response plan will not cover both hurricanes and armed attacks. So, make sure you have specific plans for each type of emergency or disaster that could affect your facility. A good resource to help you is the National Fire Protection Association.

Planning Essentials

The second step is putting the plan together, and here it is important to take advantage of the resources in your community or region. This begins with the local office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which coordinates emergency response nationwide, including issuing evacuation recommendations. FEMA will help you with resources to create an effective plan and provide information on how to coordinate with the rest of the community.

Beyond FEMA, broaden your knowledge by involving others in plan preparation, from legal counsel to your insurance partners and communications experts. Consider forming a committee internally to coordinate the planning, so your staff is involved as well.

When creating or updating your plan, there are several important organizational issues to consider: staffing, evacuation, transportation, generators, communications and information technology, including electronic or paper medical records.


Staffing is a key issue to address in any disaster response plan. Among the questions that must be considered and answered are: where will you house staff who need to stay overnight? How do you handle staffing when some cannot get on-site due to flooded roads or other problems? How do you reach staff if phones, email and power are out?

To tackle these issues, consider that not all staff have the same access to email and telephone service. You need to address your communications tree, make sure staff contact information is updated, and make specific plans to ensure adequate staffing during and after a disaster.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss additional organizational issues in disaster planning – evacuation, transportation, generators, communications and business operations.

Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM, is Risk Control Director at Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, part of Glatfelter Program Managers.