Hurricanes point out disaster plan weaknesses

As administrator of Kissimmee (FL) Surgery Center, Lou Warmijak knows that weather-related disaster plans must be in place and must be comprehensive. But, as he learned during the 2004 hurricane season, there are always situations for which you cannot plan.

Because hurricanes and other storms frequently mean a loss of power, his center does have generator power backup; but if the building is not occupied, the generator is not run, explains Warmijak. "That’s not a problem if we are out of the building for a day, but when no one is in the building for several days in high humidity weather, sterile supplies or any supplies that must be maintained at a certain temperature, are no longer usable," he points out.

When his staff returned to the center after many days of no power following Hurricane Frances, they found that all of the sterile supplies were contaminated. They could not begin rescheduling surgery cases until supplies were obtained, says Warmijak. "We now leave the generator on unless there is a high risk of building damage during which a running generator creates a dangerous situation for emergency personnel who might enter the building."

If a decision is made to take the generator off line, supplies are secured as best as possible, says Warmijak. "We also have a procedure to obtain new supplies as quickly as possible so we don’t lose surgery days," he adds.

Up-to-date inventory lists show which supplies were lost, and vendors who can deliver in a short time have been identified. Although hurricanes are dramatic, there always is some time to prepare for them, Warmijak says. "We also make sure our emergency plans and drills cover events that don’t give us time for preparation," he says. "Microburst storms with a lot of lightning and tornadoes are common weather events in central Florida, and they happen with no warning."

Less likely to occur, but included in his plans, are vehicles that crash into the building because the facility is located on a busy highway, Warmijak explains. "Weather events will be most likely to occur, but we have to have a plan for the unexpected as well," he adds.