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Internal Organization Planning for Disasters

The April/May/June 2012 print issue of PA TIMES published a series of articles on the topic of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery. The piece below is part  of a Student Symposia from that issue.

Jennifer S. Johnson

The industry of emergency medical services is a forever-changing business. With the constant political stands on healthcare, this industry must adjust in order to provide quality services to the public and be able to remain profitable. Government-owned emergency medical services can suffer budget cuts to layoffs depending on elected officials’ decisions. These cuts affect the public by decreasing emergency medical response times and advanced life support personnel and equipment. Ultimately, patient care potentially may have an overall negative outcome. Private services can make up for some of the budget cuts by providing non-emergent services and transport. However, strict Medicare and Medicaid laws delay payment of services rendered on occasion.

Emergency medical services and resources are depleted by many factors, from heavy call volume to critical staffing levels. When disaster strikes communities, this depletion becomes worse. Government and private emergency medical services have to analyze these factors and develop a preparedness plan before disaster strikes. If there is no plan, lives will be lost.

Government and private emergency medical services have to analyze these factors and develop a preparedness plan before disaster strikes. If there is no plan, lives will be lost.

Private emergency medical services rely on many resources for the areas they cover, including city and county fire departments, city and county police departments, area hospital staff, and other emergency medical services contracted through mutual aid agreements. These resources are usually all in agreement to assist one another when disasters affect the immediate response and surrounding areas. However, the planning problem lies within the private service, in that most private services pose a critical staffing issue when disasters occur. Many private services do not even realize this problem until the disaster happens. Lessons can be learned from poor planning. Private services should review past staffing issues and plan appropriately as to not learn the hard way.

Most private emergency medical services staffing is composed of full-time employees, part-time employees and as needed (PRN) employees. As is the nature of the industry, the staff is composed of emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Some services use registered nurses and paramedics, but do not appear to be cost efficient. Most of the part-time/PRN employees are full-time firefighter emergency medical technicians and paramedics with immediate service area counties or other surrounding counties. If a disaster were to occur in the immediate service area, the private service could not rely on the part-time/PRN employees because those employees would be mandated to respond to their full-time positions with the local fire departments or other emergency medical services. This particular hazard makes organizations vulnerable to a critical staffing problem, if disaster was to strike in the immediate service area. A plan should be constructed that could potentially correct and/or improve this probable threat.

The compliment for full-time employees is dependent on the service area. However, the compliment would have to increase by approximately 50 percent in order to operate the normal response area as well as the disaster area. The part-time and as-needed employees are more likely to respond to their full-time positions than to assist in their part-time positions. This leaves the private service with no part-time or as-needed employees to rely on during the disaster. Some of the full-time employees may be unreliable as well due to transportation issues or family emergencies.

Private emergency medical services may want to consider constructing an internal plan to avoid this possible hazard. Developing a special teams unit may decrease a critical staffing problem in the event of a disaster. Incorporating a team-based environment into business encourages employees to work together and to feel like a valued member of the organization. Being part of a team also empowers employees, improves morale and increases productivity. However, a special teams unit would be constructed for a different purpose, which is to correct a possible staffing problem in the event of a disaster. The special teams unit may consist of more than one team. This plan should encourage other employees, supervisors and managers to create their own special teams to increase productivity within their departments. A much-needed team could be a disaster medical assistance team (DMAT) that focuses on emergency medical disaster training and response. This team would be deployed to disasters in the immediate area and/or other areas that request its services.

Meeting the training requirements and responding to the company’s needs should correct a potential staffing problem in the case of disasters. Team members would be committed and determined to respond to the service’s needs in the event of a disaster. The DMAT would be capable of responding to any communities needs regarding a natural or man-made disaster and also be able to assist any and all county or city fire departments, police departments and other emergency medical services with medical care and light urban search and rescue. This team would be valuable to any private service and the training for the team members is invaluable when all the resources needed would already be available with the private service’s immediate staff members.

In conclusion, planning and designing a response plan for an analyzed threat is going to positively affect the outcome of a disaster area. Learning mistakes after a disaster is not an acceptable excuse. Private emergency medical services have a duty to act and a responsibility to the communities they have agreed to serve. It would not be fair to the community to have a resource available that was not properly trained or have pre-planning in place until after a disaster were to strike that area. Emergency planning involves everyone within the organization. It takes dedication and knowledge of vulnerabilities from employees and members of management to properly plan for any type of disaster. No one will ever be able to predict or prevent a disaster. No one will ever be able to put a price tag on damage or lives preceding a disaster. But, with dedicated and pro-active staff, mitigation and pre-planning could decrease some of the damage costs and possible save more lives.

Jennifer S. Johnson is a graduate student in the Department of Emergency Management at Jacksonville State University. Email: [email protected]

Constructive comments and responses to the papers are encouraged and can be submitted directly to the scholar at their email address listed below each article, or by clicking on Post A Comment below each article.

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