Workshop being held in five disaster-prone cities in country

There was hardly any audience in the hall when the workshop on preparing hospitals for disaster management began at the Peroorkada District Hospital on Friday morning.

But the doctors and paramedical staff who started trickling in about half-an-hour later remained glued to their seats till 1.30 p.m. when the technical session ended.

“Till date, disaster management did not hold any meaning for us. We are now very conscious about the need for an emergency plan and the level of preparedness that we should have as hospital staff,” one of the participants said.

“Hospitals are the lifelines where people would be brought in huge numbers when a disaster — floods, earthquakes, major fire, landslips, terrorist attacks or tsunami — strikes. Hospitals should be structurally safe to withstand a disaster such as earthquake, but more importantly, a hospital should be able to function even after a disaster,” pointed out Hari Kumar, president, Geo Hazards Society.

The workshop on hospital safety, first of a series of workshops for hospitals being held in five Indian cities, was organised at the behest of the WHO, by the Institute of Land and Disaster Management in collaboration with the Geo Hazards Society, a global partner of WHO.

The workshop series is being held in at least one hospital each in five disaster-prone cities chosen in the country — Aizawal, Guwahati, Mumbai, Shimla, and Thiruvananthapuram.

A series of questions were posed by Mr. Hari Kumar to the hospital authorities – can the hospital handle a sudden surge of patients? Does the hospital have an alternative for continuous power and water supply? What is the capacity of the water tank? Which are the critical areas in the hospital that can run on generator and for how long? Who is responsible for the building's structural safety? Did the hospital have a back-up of its medical records? How much medical supplies were in stock? Did the hospital have some communication back-up (radio) if land and mobile phone networks were affected?...

The questions just set everyone thinking about the need to identify hazards, prioritising critical areas in a hospital, and the levels of preparedness that a hospital and its staff had to have to maintain functionality and perform their critical role during a disaster.

The ingredients for a functional hospital included ensuring that crucial medical equipment, utility services, and communications were functional, adequate medical supplies were ready, and that the hospital building and the staff were safe.

The first step was to form a hospital safety committee, hazard analysis, having a well-thought out disaster preparedness and management plan (which included components for disaster mitigation and emergency response), protocols and regular training and mock drills for the staff, he added.

It was extremely important that the disaster management plan was revised periodically, and the hospital staff put through regular drills to ensure that the plan could be executed well.

One important element of a disaster management plan for hospitals was ensuring that all the staff had an emergency preparedness plan for their families.