Failure to have proper crisis plans can have cataclysmic results

Emergency management is more than just quickly responding to a crisis and engaging in disaster recovery. It also requires having plans in place for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and business continuity. 

The functions of emergency management cannot exist without those of business continuity. Communities and patients rely on health-care facilities to ensure continuity of operations in an emergency situation. These facilities may be called upon to respond not only to internal or external incidents that directly impact operations, but also to disruptive events that occur in the community and the resulting patient surge. 

Emergency events can occur in many forms, such as natural disasters, power outages, computer viruses and network disruptions. A business continuity plan provides a roadmap to reduce the impact of an emergency event. Though no plan is able to provide all the answers or ensure every conceivable situation is addressed, having systems and processes in place before an crisis situation occurs is critical to keeping a healthcare facility running.

Continuity planning is the process of ensuring an organization is able to survive an event that causes significant disruption to normal business operations. A successful emergency management plan contributes to a strong business continuity plan. After all, being able to resume operations as quickly as possible means nothing if health-care workers and patients can’t safely weather the actual emergency event.

The first step in creating an integrated emergency management and business continuity plan is to establish the right framework. It should address the tools necessary to implement and maintain the plan, and the right processes and procedures. Involvement of senior leadership is vital — they are the decision-makers who set priorities, and provide the required support for the processes and procedures meant to keep everyone safe and life-saving functions operational. When plans, priorities and support are in place, the workforce is ready for training.

Staff trained in emergency management and business continuity planning is a health-care facility’s greatest asset in the face of a crisis situation. Workers who are adequately trained should have a clear understanding of the concepts of risk management and why a business impact analysis is so critical. The business impact analysis is one of the foundations on which emergency and continuity management programs are built. It identifies, quantifies and qualifies the impacts of loss, interruption or disruption of critical activities on an organization, and provides the data from which appropriate continuity and recovery strategies can be determined. A critical activity is any function or process that is essential for the organization to deliver its products and services.

A trained workforce is able to promote the safety of patients and staff; reduce the potential for costly damage; lessen environmental and other impacts; assist emergency staff in initiating corrective actions; reduce recovery time and associated costs, both financial and human; and help ensure patient and public confidence in the health-care facility’s ability to successfully manage a crisis situation.

Standards play an important role in helping organizations implement effective emergency management and business continuity programs. CSA Z1600, Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs, is a good example. First published in 2008 and updated in 2014, it is harmonized with the United States National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs. CSA Group developed and facilitated the writing of the Z1600 standard to be consistent with Canada’s emergency management framework. It has since created a Z1600 customized training program that is tailored to health-care facilities and delivered on-site.

Checklists are also critical for health-care facilities to successfully implement the necessary processes and programs to manage various forms of disasters. The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) developed a tool kit in response to a need to have a province-wide emergency preparedness and response framework that helps hospitals address all types of emergencies.

Ron Meyers is a project manager for health and safety standards at CSA Group.