Disasters Will happen. Is Your Facility Ready?

Posted by on Mar 7, 2019 in Behind the Design
Disasters Will happen. Is Your Facility Ready?

It seems every day, there is a new disaster. Whether it is a devastating storm or a terrorist attack, hospitals are on the front line when disaster strikes communities. Is your healthcare facility ready to withstand any unpredictable scenario? The first line of defense is an emergency preparedness plan.

Complexity of the Unknown

The hardest thing is to plan for the unknown. It takes a complex and rigorous plan, design and resilience implementation to prepare for a myriad of what-if scenarios.

Emergency Preparedness Plan

It’s very difficult to plan for the unknown but the plan is what saves you. An emergency preparedness plan is the first line of defense. Below is a list of general steps to consider when making an emergency preparedness plan. Each facility will have its own set of circumstances but thinking about these things can help start the emergency preparedness plan or examine the current one. The list was shared on HealthcareDesignMagazine.com.

  1. Identify options to quickly expand the facility’s capacity during a disaster. For example, some EDs may be able to treat more than one patient per room when patient volume increases rapidly. Organizations may also identify alternative spaces for receiving patients and triage, such as parking structures or surface parking. Suitability of alternative sites depends on a range of factors including the type of incident, accessibility, security, and even the weather. Consideration should also be given to utility access (oxygen, water, electrical) and preparation for rapid deployment of necessary equipment.
  2. Assess the amount of space needed for mass decontamination areas immediately adjacent to the exterior of the ED. Space can be permanently dedicated or exterior canopies, with appropriate plumbing, curtains or screens, and drainage, can be used for temporary, convertible mass decontamination. Organizations should store equipment with portability and rapid deployment in mind, for example, utilizing equipment storage trailers that can be transported for disaster response on a moment’s notice.
  3. Keep in mind that proximity and easy access to alternative sites become even more critical during mass emergencies. With a sudden influx of significant patient volumes and the increased demand placed on space and caregivers, efficiency of patient care becomes paramount, and time spent transporting patients should be minimized as much as possible.
  4. Anticipate the domino effect of a mass event on the entire hospital by identifying additional space and equipment needs beyond the ED that could be impacted by a dramatic influx of patients. For instance, areas such as lab, pharmacy, imaging, and surgery could also experience increased demand during a mass incident. Close coordination between the ED and other areas will lead to a more complete disaster preparedness plan for the facility. Similar to the ED, these other spaces will need to identify ways to handle increased capacity within their department and leverage alternative spaces, where appropriate.
  5. Allocate spaces to support nonclinical crisis management operations. For example, identify a suitable space to accommodate an incident command center team, including its individual IT and telecommunications needs, such as connectivity; laptops or other portable devices; printers; dedicated land lines and phones; and large LCD displays to allow constant visibility to key systems and reports throughout the room. Organizations may also need to identify a location for crisis communications events such as press conferences or communications with large groups of family members and loved ones.


The best time to prepare for a disaster is as far in advance as possible. Organizations working on campus master planning and preparing for construction projects have a unique opportunity to prepare for disasters from the ground up. New spaces can be designed and built to optimize resilience and preparedness before the shovel even hits the ground.

Marie Wikoff is the creator of Wikoff Design Studio based out of Reno, Nevada. Her expertise in healthcare design has helped modernize healthcare organizations locally, regionally, and internationally, improving patient experience and outcomes. Her credentials include Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designer (CHID), the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and LEED AP. Contact Marie Wikoff

Source: Jennifer Kovacs Silvis. “Acute Care.” HCD Magazine, 2019, www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com/trends/architecture/when-disaster-strikes-emergency-department-response/.

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