Post by: Kim Stephens
September is National Preparedness Month, so it seemed worth noting a story that appeared on NPR that discussed organizational preparedness. The interview was on NPR’s “Here and Now” and was with Dr. Ron Walls, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Dr. Richard Zane, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. The topic and title: Before Marathon Bombings, Aurora Helped Boston Prepare. Several things in this interview stood out: 1. Drills and exercises won’t measure your ability to respond to a worst case scenario unless you test the worst case scenario; 2. It’s OK to question your state of readiness; 3. Twitter and social media matter; and 4. The lessons we can learn from others in our profession are invaluable. (CBS News did a similar story and the YouTube video of it is embedded below.)
Are We Ready?
In this interview, Dr. Walls noted that their hospital did 70 drills in the previous six years, and he thought they were prepared. However, Dr. Zane provided information about the Aurora movie theatre shooting that made him question his underlying readiness rational. Dr. Walls stated “In all of our planning…we had never drilled for receiving more than 12 patients per hour.” In Colorado, however, instead of 12 per hour, the University of Colorado Hospital received 23… in rapid succession. This information left Dr. Walls wondering: “Oh my goodness, are we really ready for this?”
Dr. Walls pulled together his Disaster preparedness committee and said: “I want to tear this up [their preparedness update to the Board] and start all over.” His new theme became: “Are We Ready?” He said in the interview, “I wanted to ensure we could do this, and I didn’t think we were ready.”
One thing noted in the NPR piece was the importance social media played in providing information from the scene. When the bombing happened staffers at some Boston hospitals found out about the event when they saw Tweets alerting them to tragedy from doctors positioned at the finish line. This had an impact–for instance, at Mass General an anesthesiologist suggested immediately stopping all elective surgeries. The report, “Twitter as a Sentinel in Emergency Situations: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Explosions, was referenced by the NPR host in which researchers found that Tweets sent from the scene appeared 6 full minutes before hospitals were notified by Public Health Officials. This information has left some hospitals asking: Can we use social media more effectively?
Prepare to Support the Staff
On a final note, Dr. Walls said that when the dust settled he called Dr. Zane and asked him what he had done wrong in the first 48 hours after the movie theatre shooting. The answer came down to supporting the staffs’ emotion needs. Dr. Zane told him:
“Think of all the intensive emotional support you need to provide to your staff. Think of it in the most generous way… and then triple it.”
One piece of irony: the Brigham and Women’s Hospital received exactly 23 patients.