The Best Laid Plans for the Worst Case Scenarios: Managing the Peculiar World of Clinic Emergency Preparedness

Posted: September 9, 2015

By Jason Wang MPH, CHSP, CHEP, Safety Officer and Special Projects Program Manager
Northeast Valley Health Corporation

Jason Wang NEVHC
Jason Wang MPH, CHSP, CHEP Northeast Valley Health Corporation

“Emergency preparedness matters.”
“What I do matters and is essential to this organization.”

Like many Emergency Planners, I find the need to remind and reassure myself that my emergency preparedness work matters to my organization. Sometimes emergency preparedness is given the highest priority, especially amidst unusual crises like Ebola or Measles. But more often than not, emergency preparedness is considered low priority in the grand scheme of things. The rollercoaster level of importance; sometimes high or sometimes low, can be frustrating but it is what makes this type of work so interesting.

The real challenge is rarely the plan itself, but managing the social complexities of emergency preparedness. Emergency preparedness is not something that can be accomplished by a single individual. To be truly successful, preparedness requires a level of motivation, communication, cooperation, and buy-in from many different people at different levels of the organization. This level of commitment goes beyond their regular job function and urgent priorities. From an objective point of view, emergency preparedness is preparing for a something that may never occur which is why many times it is seen as a low priority.

“The real uphill battle is actually navigating the social complexities of emergency preparedness.”

Creating Clinic Organizational Buy-In
This isn’t to say convincing people to commit to emergency preparedness is impossible. It just takes a little more people skills and explanation.

First, it is always good to have a positive working relationship with the person whose cooperation you are requesting. While it may seem lame, tedious or irrelevant, get to know the people you will need to work with. Ask about their weekend plans and on Monday ask how it went. Emergency preparedness cannot be done alone, so maintaining and investing in those you work with makes them more willing to move you up as a priority. Remember, people prefer to be motivated by a carrot rather than a stick.

Second, make it easy for them to help you. This means bearing the majority of the burden yourself. For example, if a company policy on how employees are paid during an emergency does not exist, do not send an impersonal email requesting the HR Director to write a policy. Do the research on federal laws, find existing policies from other companies and draft your own policy. Then, set up a meeting with the HR director to introduce the concept and show your draft along with all the supporting research. Then all they have to do is make edits and bring it to the proper committee for approval. For many people, making an intangible concept tangible (like having a policy to edit or a chart which outlines the steps of a proposed process) gives others something to work with, makes them more willing to contribute, and gets the job done much faster.

planningLastly, help them understand why this particular emergency preparedness issue matters. Questions like, “What is the point of all this?” and “Why is this important?” always need to be explained because many times it is not apparent when discussing emergency preparedness. This answer also needs to be stated in a manner relevant to the listener. For example, if you are requesting a meeting with the chief financial officer, make sure to state your deadline, specify exactly what numbers or funding you are interested in, and state the regulatory compliance that makes this so vital. In a twisted way, we really should be thanking regulatory agencies for mandating a standard of emergency preparedness compliance. Regulations allow planners to heighten the importance of emergency preparedness to key leaders in the organization.

Results Matter
When disaster strikes, but the organization avoids harm to life, property and environment, the emergency planner is vindicated. It suddenly feels like the stars have aligned and confirmed your existence, the value of emergency preparedness becomes recognized and everything was worth it. Emergency preparedness matters. What we do matters, and it is essential to our organizations.

So don’t ever give up navigating the peculiar world of emergency preparedness! Continuously prepare, mitigate, respond and recover! You can do it!

Click here for an Emergency Kit Flyer prepared by Irene Holguin, Safety Officer at Arroyo Vista Community Health Centers


One thought on “The Best Laid Plans for the Worst Case Scenarios: Managing the Peculiar World of Clinic Emergency Preparedness”

  1. Great article Jason, and thanks for taking the time to write on top of all your other responsibilities.
    I especially like your point about relationships, sometimes it is really hard to undo the inertia that has built up over decades of inaction.
    I always hope that what I do is never needed, but it is gratifying to know it will make a difference if it ever is. I guess in a way that makes us all a little like insurance salesmen…
    Thanks again!

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