Prepare Your Healthcare Facility for Tornados

There is often very little time between when the tornado… (…)

Take the time now to figure out your plan, tornados can strike at any moment.

With the Southeast reeling from deadly tornados, the conversation often turns to what could be done differently next time. As tornados are so unpredictable, preparedness is a constant thing. Unlike hurricanes, there is often very little time between when the tornado is spotted and when it hits a specific location. In this most recent group of tornados, there were a few days of watches and warnings, which would have made preparations easier, if everyone had known what to do.
 
Being prepared starts well before the tornado is even considered. Preparedness should occur on both a personal and professional level and should include educational, healthcare, and government buildings. Here are two ways Crisis Prevention & Response, Inc. recommends preparing your organization for tornados, even if you live far away from Tornado Alley.
 

Coordinate an emergency kit for your own facility, so you can help others

  • Include enough food and water for each person – Ready.gov, the government’s preparedness website, recommends one gallon of water per person per day, for at least three days and the same amount of food. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to alter this or prepare a storage place for these.
  • Weather radios, flashlights, and extra batteries – You’ll want to know what is going on around you, and a weather radio is a great tool for this. Extra batteries and flashlights will make sure that everyone feels comfortable and safe.
  • First aid kits – Have enough on hand to treat minor injuries. Encourage those in your organization who are on medication to have that accessible to them so when they leave a place quickly, they can do so with their medications.
  • Communication devices – After the initial event has passed, there will be a need for communication. Relying solely on cell phones may lead to disappointment. Sometimes text messages may go through instead of phone calls, but often the cell towers are damaged during tornados. A redundant system of electronic and audible announcements is best.

 

Develop an emergency plan

If your facility is prone to tornados, you must include this threat in your Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) and develop an emergency plan to address this hazard. This is especially true if you are a Medicare/Medicaid provider or supplier, subject to the new CMS Emergency Preparedness Conditions of Participation.
 
  • Identify a safe location – Protection from a tornado is usually found in an underground area. If that isn’t a possibility, some alternatives include interior rooms or hallways on the lowest floor or rooms with reinforced concrete. Definitely encourage everyone to stay away from auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and all doors and windows.
  • Establish an accountability process – Begin by making everyone familiar with the warning system. An alarm or text message or both will help let everyone know what is going on, even if they aren’t near their computer. If you have a lot of people in and out of the office, establish a way for people to check in, so you know exactly how many people you are looking for. Use managers and foremen to help keep track of people from the initial notification through to the all-clear signal. Know how to notify, and protect, patients, customers, and visitors.
  • Practice this plan on a regular basis – Just like children practice fire drills monthly in elementary school, the more your organization practices their emergency plan, the smoother it will run when put into effect. It also helps to figure out the problems with the plan, which you’d rather know before an actual emergency.
 
Simply being prepared is not enough to stop damage or loss of life from a tornado. But it is a huge step in the right direction.

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