Associate Director Hospital Operations
I have been screaming about the need to update our disaster plan for years. I was screaming about it before the train incident, too, but nobody would listen then. I figured people might listen afterwards, but that hasn’t been the case, at least so far. If I’m talking to you about this right now, maybe it’s a good sign.
Look. I respect the heck out of Jen Paulson, she’s been a great hospital administrator. But she’s also got a lot on her plate, and is never, ever able to properly take a step back and look at the big picture. Not her fault, it’s a systemic thing.
And all of our disaster-planning problems are systemic. The disaster plan as it exists is basically a binder full of memos, each memo just being something I or Jen or someone else went and wrote down after we’d had a conversation about what to do if there was a catastrophic snowstorm or what have you. At best, it works as a bunch of notes that you could use to build a real disaster plan out of. As something you could act on in a crisis? No way. And we proved that in the train incident.
One thing that makes me crazy about all of this: in all of our conversations, we act like we here at the hospital can cook up a plan on our own that’ll get us through anything. But that’s just crazy. We can and should have a plan. But when the stuff hits the fan, we’re not on our own and we can’t work from a plan that pretends we are. We interface directly with first responders: the fire department, the EMTs, and the police and sheriff’s departments. Our plan needs to coordinate with them. We saw that in spades on the night of the train explosion. We barely had functional communication with any of the other agencies for the first few hours of the crisis! People were being brought over by the ambulance load and just kind of dumped off so that they could go pick up the next wave! There was a serious problem with understandably panicked people crowding the hospital, mostly trying to find out where their loved ones were and if they were OK, and it was three in the morning before we had police here doing crowd control.
So if you’re helping Jen work on an improved disaster plan: First, thank you. Second, please, PLEASE reach out to people at other agencies around town and work out some joint-operation protocols for next time.