In nearly every disaster or emergency scenario, whether it’s a bombing, an active shooter, a biological event or a catastrophic earthquake, all roads lead to a hospital. Stanford Health Care is the only Level 1 Trauma Center between San Francisco and San Jose and a vital part of the Bay Area’s overall emergency response system.
As first responders, Stanford physicians are vital to providing this emergency response. The leaders of Stanford Health Care’s Office of Emergency Management—Brandon Bond and Colin Bucks, MD—have outlined how physicians can be better prepared to respond during times of crisis.
Step 1: Develop a Personal Communications Plan
Health care workers, like other first responders, may not have the luxury of going home when an emergency strikes. Bucks encourages all clinicians to think about who they will be most concerned about during an emergency, and then create a plan on how to communicate with them.
“You will need a system for checking in with your loved ones,” said Bucks, medical director of the OEM. “Because if you can’t confirm their well being, you won’t be able to focus on patient care.”
To create a communications plan, physicians should choose a person outside the local area to act as their main communications hub. This is someone that each member of the family can call or text separately, and who can send a broadcast message to everyone alerting them that all are safe. Physicians should talk through their plan with their loved ones, and let them know ahead of time how they will be in touch.
The most robust communication method during disaster besides ham radio is text messaging, said Bucks. Any messages sent should be clear and concise: “Here is my physical status, here is my timeline and here is the next time I think I’m going to be able to give an update.”
Step 2: Be reachable
Stanford Health Care’s Office of Emergency Management relies on a variety of channels to communicate with staff and physicians during disasters. But the OEM is only as good as the internal data it relies on. To be reachable during a crisis, physicians should ensure that their telephone numbers, pagers and email information are up to date and accurate in their department’s business continuity plans.
“The Department’s disaster and business continuity plans are very important from the Command Center standpoint,” said Bucks. “If we need to contact specific physicians or departments, that’s where we go for information. We spend a lot of time validating those internal documents.”
Step 3: Pick up the phone
In a perfect world, every clinician would have a landline, a phone connected to the wall via a phone cord, preferably with a cord connected to the handset. “These phones are incredibly robust because they work without electricity,” said Bucks.
Step 4: Stay informed
During a crisis, the OEM keeps SHC staff and Stanford physicians abreast of fluctuating situations through its emergency communications system. The department sends out regular emails, text messages and pager alerts, and works with the Public Information Officer on duty at the Incident Command Center to simultaneously update SHC’s intranet.
“Currently we have about 1,500 physicians who are directly loaded into our hospital’s mass notification system,” said Bond, Administrative Director of the OEM. “Our goal is to incorporate the outpatient medical staff and affiliated physicians into the mass notification capability so that we can have a much more dynamic means of communicating with all of our physicians during a crisis.”
Step 5: Register with AlertSU
As part of its mass notification system, OEM also sends updates through the AlertSU system. Physicians need to proactively register their pagers, email address and cell phone numbers with AlertSU since it is an “opt-in” system, said Bond. Go to https://stanfordyou.stanford.edu and select the “Maintain your directory and AlertSU emergency contact information” link.
The challenge with AlertSU is that it sends out notices about every incident on the Stanford campus, from purse snatchings to road and parking closures. “Physicians will certainly get information that they don’t want or need,” said Bucks. “But the system may prove to be absolutely essential when something does happen.”
Step 6: Be patient
The OEM notification system is purposely built with redundancies in case one or more forms of communication fail. “It is necessary from a safety perspective,” said Bucks, who noted that clinicians will likely receive the same information broadcasted via text, email and on the SHC intranet.
“We humbly ask you to tolerate us as we send too many messages during a disaster,” said Bucks. “We prefer to give out too much information to too many clinicians, rather than miss critical people or critical pieces of information.”
To improve on its communications protocol, OEM has invested in a new crisis communications system for the hospital. The sleeker, faster MIR 3 system will have the ability to send targeted messages to different user groups, thereby alleviating some of the redundant notifications.