Boost communication for emergency preparedness

A new study from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations finds that community-based preparation for — and response to — disasters will require more effective communication and planning among hospitals, public health agencies, and community first responders such as fire, police, and emergency medical services, than currently exists. The study also found that national benchmarks are needed to measure and promote emergency preparedness planning.

The study — "Integrating Hospitals into Community Emergency Preparedness Planning" — appears in the June 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. (To view the complete study, go to It found that most acute care hospitals are involved in communitywide drills, analyze threats and vulnerabilities with community first responders, and are in communities which have plans for mobilizing necessary supplies, equipment, and decontamination facilities that would be required in an emergency. However, it recommends drills and exercises that more truly simulate the stresses created by emergency conditions that persist over time.

"Drills and exercises should be designed to stress the communitywide response over a substantial period of time and should demonstrate the ability for an effective, collaborative response at any time of day or night," advises. Barbara Braun, PhD, Health Policy Research Project Director, Division of Research, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and one of the study's authors. "Drills should address event notification, communication, resource allocation, and patient management."

Robert Suter, DO, MHA, FACEP, immediate past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians and chair of the ED at Spring Branch Medical Center in Houston, says the paper is valuable in that it illustrates two very common issues: "One, that hospitals are essential to any preparedness for disasters and emergencies; and two, hospitals need to ensure that they are part of any communitywide disaster and emergency plan."

For ED managers, this survey shows is that there is room for improvement in the way you conduct your drills, Suter says. "One of the keys is for hospital ED managers to go to their community resources such as the fire and police departments and EMS, and show them the data and what will really happen in a true disaster," he says. "That, for example, the majority of patients will end up in the ED first — and not necessarily with EMS."

It's far more efficient for the police and fire departments to ensure the hospital nearest the disaster has the resources to provide security, decontamination, and triage than it is for them to respond to a scene that may be several miles wide, Suter explains. "If a mass disaster spreads over 10-30 miles, you can't send a fire truck to every patient — but you know people will try to go to the nearest hospital — you have to have those agreements up front so they understand their priority is to focus on the ED."


For more information on emergency preparedness, contact:

  • Barbara Braun, PhD, Health Policy Research Project Director, Division of Research, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, 601 13th St. N.W., Suite 1150N, Washington, DC 20005. Phone: (202) 783-6655.
  • Robert Suter, DO, MHA, FACEP, Chairman, Emergency Department, Spring Branch Medical Center, 8850 Long Point, Houston, TX 77055. Phone: (713) 467-6555.