Disaster Preparedness: Getting It Done Chapter 2


The recent deaths from tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia are a graphic reminder of the need for constant vigilance. A disaster can be any occurrence that causes widespread destruction and distress.

Disasters are the product of choices that are politically, environmentally, socially, and economically driven. Disasters occur when a natural or man-made event comes into contact with these choices. Thus, we can reduce or avoid the impact of a disaster through our planning, choices, decisions and actions.
One such opportunity comes during the creation of a hazard vulnerability analysis (HVA). HVA is a tool, which allows us to consider our risk exposure and modify our planning and risk management before events occur.

We must overcome the 4 M’s of flawed HVAs:

  • Motive: facilities often create HVAs to check off boxes, not to reduce exposure proactively
  • Myth: Myths lower estimated risk because an event has not happened before or  for many years. Montana was relatively free of tornadoes until 2010, when in the first seven months, over a dozen tornadoes swept the state. Wind, combined with heavy rains pushed a 5-foot wall of water in the direction of Billings Clinic Hospital. The myth that snow was the only natural disaster in Montana is now put to rest.
  • Magnitude: Even if an event is possible, its magnitude is downplayed because of insurance costs, remediation costs, or simply an honest belief that “nothing bad ever happens here”. The earthquake in Haiti was followed by volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and now exceeded by the flooding of the Indus river, leaving 15 to 20 million Pakistani people homeless.  Only time will tell the magnitude of the earthquake in Sendai, Japan that crippled a nuclear power plant.
  • Management: Although optimism and faith are important, organizations should use the HVA to question planning assumptions.  Lives are at stake.

In the key concepts section which accompanies every chapter, Professor Taylor offers fifteen tips for successful disaster management.  The first three are:

  • Begin With A Well-Defined Mission– How you define your most critical mission is how you will prepare and respond, for example, “We will work to maximize lives saved, which must include our staff and our patients.” Your staff is not immune from the events of a man-made or natural disaster. They will suffer loss, become ill, or lose confidence in your leadership if they feel a lack of commitment to them.
  • Plan Even If You Never Use It– Plan to build communication, become aware of resources, and create a structured response. Recognize that flexibility is key and that once a disaster occurs, it is too late to learn and practice new tools or technologies and vet unknown volunteers. The lack of a plan is a plan to fail.
  • Disasters, Like Dragons, Have Long Tails– Disasters typically last months, if not years, in duration. Good planning must take into account the long-term nature of an event and recognize that medical needs will evolve. In Haiti, the short-term needs were the management of earthquake related trauma, which led to hundreds of amputations, wound infections, and the need for rehabilitation. Haiti’s early rainy season compromised food and water supplies and caused gastrointestinal illness. The emerging burden of mental health problems and communicable diseases borne of living in close proximity are ongoing issues.

Professor Taylor is an international expert in disaster planning.  I hope that you see the relevance of his insights  to healthcare collaboration.

As always, I welcome your input to improve healthcare collaboration.

Kenneth H. Cohn

© 2011, all rights reserved


I have not received any compensation for writing this content.


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