Managing Unplanned Events in Healthcare Facilities

By Chuck Lane, CEM, CEDP, BluSky

The disasters of 2020 will likely live in infamy for decades to come. There were 22 disaster events last year that caused, at a minimum $1 billion in damage. The total count for those 22 disasters? $95 billion and 261 people dead. If that cost and death toll seems low, it’s because it is. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being counted. While many industries suffered throughout 2020, healthcare has shouldered a continuous burden.

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge to healthcare facilities, is the continuation of patient care during an unplanned emergency or disaster event. Fires, water losses, wind events, hazardous materials spills, and infectious disease outbreaks all directly impact the patient care environment in both the short and long-term perspective. All of these events require different responses, various recovery times, and usually, outside assistance.

The goal in managing any unplanned event in the healthcare environment is to limit the impacts of the adverse event to the patients, providers, support staff, visitors, and the community. Simply put, healthcare facilities need to maintain their services as much as is realistically possible. This seems like an obvious statement, but the issue lies in “how” you do this. This is where I recommend healthcare leaders to focus on the “three P’s”. The three P’s of emergency and disaster planning are, the Plan, the Process, and the People. By focusing on these three components, leaders can begin to develop (or improve) plans and procedures for response and recovery efforts related to unplanned events.

1.The Plan

Emergency Plans are the backbone of response and recovery from an emergency event. This document is meant to be an operational response guide that can be picked up by the layperson and assist them in making decisions during a stressful situation. It should have enough detail to outline what needs to be done, but not so much that it takes forever to find what you need to do. They should be user friendly and written for people who do not necessarily understand emergency preparedness.

2. The Process

The next thing to review is your process, or processes, for response and recovery. Do your teams have a dedicated process to follow? Do they know what to do, when to do it, and who to call? More than likely, like most organizations, you have experienced issues in these areas. The issue, absent problems with the plan, is a problem with the process. This is where training, drills and subject matter expert feedback come in handy.

3. The People

People do not rise to the occasion during disasters, they fall to their level of training and knowledge. Teams need to know, and be trained on, what is expected of them during emergency events so they can effectively respond. For training to truly be effective it needs to be simple, consistent, and often. The truth is that every loss is different and with those differences always come uncertainties. The best way to prepare for the things we hope never happen are to think about what we would want to do if the event did occur. As a good friend of mine used to say, “The body cannot go where the mind has not been”.

If you would like more information regarding this topic, please contact Chuck Lane, CEM, CEDP at (901) 305-4576 (office) or email him at

This is a publication of Southern Loss Association, Inc., P.O. Box 421564, Atlanta, GA 30342. The articles published on this website are in a general format and are not intended to be legal advice applicable to any specific circumstances. Legal opinions may vary when based on subtle factual differences. All rights reserved.