Even on our best days, it’s our job to prepare for the worst.
Sometimes you don’t need to hold disaster drills. You have real disasters.
Certainly, that has been the case in Santa Barbara in recent years with our rash of wildfires, high winds, and looming threats of flood and run-off. Add the preparation for imminent pandemic outbreaks and the eventual seismic Big One, and there’s no question that vigilance is a constant in our communities.
Knowing the Drill
Susanna Shaw, Director of Environmental Safety and Security (right), oversees a disaster drill at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, reviewing protocol for first responders reacting to hazardous material exposures.
In a major disaster, immediate self-sufficiency can be key, and particularly so for a hospital. At Cottage, we have systems in place that allow us to get by for 72 hours without outside assistance: whether for gas and electricity, for food and water, or for medical supplies. By directing our emergency power to more essential services in a disaster, we can probably conserve those resources even beyond the required 72 hours.
Also critical in a disaster of any kind is the ability to keep in touch with essential hospital staff. As needed, Cottage activates a dedicated 24-hour phone line for employees and physicians to call and get current information, find out if they’re needed, receive updates on road closures and more, in addition to direct communication methods with key hospital staff and what we call the Command Center.
The Command Center, quickly established on site in the event of a major disaster, becomes the hub of planning and response activity. With information posted about available beds, with area maps, erasable white boards, phones, LCD laptop projectors, bulletin boards—and a constant stream of clinical and support staff hurrying back and forth to update information and relay key messages to other staff—the Command Center becomes the crucial hospital headquarters for disaster information.
“As the emergency coordinator for Cottage Health System, I have been fortunate to see firsthand that when crises happen, the best in people comes out,” confirms Susanna Shaw, director of environmental safety and security. “So many staff, across the different levels—from senior leadership, managers, and front-line staff—are willing to help to get what needs to be done completed.
“During the fires, people were calling me at 10 pm and later, offering to come in. The fact that over 200 staff members were evacuated from their homes during the Jesusita Fire and still came in to work when scheduled was extraordinary. They had prepared their home life so that they could help be there for our community.”
Helping to streamline the process for all departments are comprehensive manuals that carefully outline the responsibilities and tasks of key positions on the disaster response team. This allows on-site staff to fill these positions temporarily while waiting for others to get to the hospital. Delay is not an option.
In a major disaster, ReddiNet, the dedicated computer system on-line 24 hours in the emergency department, is moved to the Command Center, providing instant communication networks that link hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) agencies, first responders and public health officials. Using both radio and phone channels, it sends critical messages to other ReddiNet computers in the broader tri-county and LA region, and provides quick access to medical supply information, even to missing person inquiries. In the case of an expected or actual influx of patients from a disaster of any kind ReddiNet’s Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) management program allows staff to input data on patient/room capacity, victim identification, and dispatch information so that hospitals can evenly and appropriately distribute patients to other waiting hospitals based on services, staffing and bed availability.
Yes, drills are important, and Cottage schedules them regularly twice a year. It’s an opportunity to work collaboratively with other agencies, to fine-tune systems and hone the small details that can make all the difference in providing a smooth process of response. In November of this year, we’ll participate in a statewide disaster drill.
In the meantime, community members can play their own part in preparing for disasters. If you’d like help determining just what you need, see this page for a checklist of items related to emergency preparedness. You can never be too ready.
• BY JANET O’NEILL | PHOTOS BY GLENN DUBOCK