FEMA: Many hospitals risk earthquake damage

Hospital Safety Insider, October 1, 2015

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Unlike hospitals in California, many of which have had to retrofit entire buildings or completely rebuild at the cost of millions, it's not likely to be cost-effective for hospitals in less earthquake-prone areas of the country to spend much time and money protecting themselves against something that may never happen.

At the same time, tremors have occurred in recent months in places such as New Hampshire, Indiana, and Virginia, and experts have warned that it's not unheard of for larger quakes to strike in areas where faults were never known to exist.

FEMA officials According to some estimates, as many as 50% of U.S. hospitals lie in an "area of potential shaking" on geological maps, which would put them at risk for at least moderate damage during an earthquake. About 80% of the losses incurred by hospitals that experience small or moderate quakes. By contrast, anywhere from 40% to 80% of the remaining investment is nonstructural, and these costs may not be covered by traditional insurance policies in the event of an earthquake

To prevent the loss of crucial nonstructural inventory in your facility, it's time to look around and identify some of the most vital things you can do on your everyday rounds as a safety professional. Here's some of the quick, low-cost items that can help get you started.

  • Review your disaster contingency plan. You should be doing this anyway as part of your "all hazards" approach to emergency planning, but it pays to thoroughly review your emergency contingency plan. Pay close attention to the continuity of operations. What would you do if an earthquake knocked out your ability to operate as usual?
  • Check and double-check crucial infrastructure. Most crucial of all are the things that will keep your hospital operational in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake-minor or major. You may have heard this before: It's a Joint Commission requirement to keep your facility operational for 96 hours following a major disaster. But a quake is a much different animal than a blizzard or hurricane, and you likely won't have any advance notice before one hits. You may have an emergency generator inside your building that you think is safely positioned, but is it? Some hospitals are designing generators and battery backups on "sleds" that can move with earthquake shaking. This kind of equipment may not be in your budget, but perhaps it's time to invest in a backup for your backup generator.
  • Do an inventory. Walk around the facility (as you're probably already doing) and examine the many things that would likely be damaged if an earthquake hit. Some of those things might not seem so obvious. A tremor could send cabinets of pharmacy medications onto the floor. Emergency light fixtures, computers, televisions, and bookcases would tumble over. Crash carts would go careening down the hospital hallways, creating a hazard. Hazardous chemicals could spill from containers. Unsecured outdoor signage and building components could come crashing to the ground. Now is the time to consider the damage and safety hazards these things could cause.
  • Invest in small defenses. You conduct a hazard assessment for a reason: to identify the disasters likely to hit your facility and then plan your budget accordingly. No one is expecting a hospital in Ohio to plan for the catastrophic earthquakes that take place in California. But even a moderate quake is possible in places like Ohio, and you should think about the small, inexpensive things you can do to protect the valuable things inside your hospital. Bookcases, refrigerators, and medical equipment are being secured to the walls with simple chains, generators are being bolted to the floors, and pharmacy stocks are being protected with wires that stretch across shelves or plastic lips that can keep medicine bottles from being tossed onto the floor during a tremor.

This is an excerpt from the monthly hospital safety resource Briefings on Hospital Safety. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Non-subscribers can find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.


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