Is your facility prepared for a disaster to hit?

Here are lessons learned from recent hurricanes

Is your center prepared for a disaster that could cause you to close your doors, contact patients and staff, and later reopen safely? Information from centers that weathered the recent hurricanes in Florida can apply to any disaster.

  • Perform disaster drills.

At Kissimmee (FL) Surgery Center, disaster drills cover weather scenarios, terrorism, and building damage from car accidents, says Lou Warmijak, administrator.

Some drills include full evacuations, Warmijak says. "You can never be too prepared," he adds.

Some drills are held using an actual patient and his or her family, Warmijak says. Patients are selected from those least likely to be upset by a drill, such as repeat endoscopy or pain management patients and families of firefighters and police officers. The drill is held after the patient is ready for discharge. After the drill, patients and families are asked what made them anxious and how they thought the staff handled the situation. Ancillary staff members fill in as pseudo patients in the drills.

  • Obtain business interruption insurance.

Kissimmee Surgery Center lost six days of business in the recent hurricanes, Warmijak says. About 50% of those cases have been rescheduled, he says.

The corporation that owns his center does have business interruption insurance, and at press time, his center still was evaluating how much of its losses, including payroll, additional supply costs, and lost surgery, would be covered. "But it covers pretty much everything you lose during down time," Warmijak says.

  • Have systems in place to communicate with patients and staff.

When you know a potential disaster is coming, such as a hurricane, verify your phone numbers for your key contacts, advises William Phillips, PhD, president of Riteway Services, a Winter Park, FL-based business that handles facilities management for ambulatory surgery centers.

"Make sure the numbers you have are actually good numbers," Phillips says.

Administrators and key contacts need to make sure they have a traditional telephone at their addresses that does not work from electrical power, he says. After the recent hurricanes, cell phone coverage was poor, and cordless phones weren’t working because the electricity was off, he says.

Keep in mind that patients who live outside of your immediate area might not be affected by a disaster such as hurricane and may not realize afterward that you are closed, Warmijak points out. Also, roads may be unsafe due to downed power lines or debris. "That is another responsibility: to communicate with these individuals," he says.

At Kissimmee Surgery Center, when a potential disaster such as a hurricane is predicted, patients are contacted to determine if they want to continue with the procedure if the center is up and running, Warmijak says.

"A lot of them want to go through with the surgery," he says. However, keep in mind that some patients may not have power after a disaster, which might make their homes less than ideal for recovery, sources say.

Staff members verify the patients’ phone numbers, including cell phone numbers, and give them an anticipated time to hear from the center staff. "We tell them how to call the building, and we tell them if the answering machine doesn’t come on, you know the building doesn’t have phones and electricity," Warmijak says.

Also, for patients who live near the center, they are told that information about opening the facility will be posted on the front of the building or somewhere on the building.

The center has assigned its staff to teams who handle different levels of communication. For example, the business office team copies and carries home three to five days of schedules, including patients’ and physicians’ contact numbers. The materials manager communicates with vendors to let them know if the center is closed, when they expect to open, and to determine if there are any expected delays in shipments. Due to storm damage, some shipping services may not be available.

  • Evaluate damage after disaster.

If you turned off the power before a potential disaster, have the building cleared of any structural or electrical problems before you turn it back on, Warmijak says.

Have an architect or a general contractor walk through within hours of the disaster, Phillips advises. Also, have an electrician check the power status, he suggests.

"Make sure the voltage is correct and all phases are correct," Phillips says.


For more on surviving a disaster, contact:

  • William Phillips, PhD, President, Riteway Services, 140 N. Orlando Ave., Suite 100, Winter Park, FL 32789. E-mail: Phone: (321) 303-7703.
  • Lou Warmijak, Administrator, Kissimmee Surgery Center, 2275 N. Central Ave., Kissimmee, FL 34741. Phone: (407) 870-0573. Fax: (407) 870-1859. E-mail: