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If an earthquake hit today, would your hospital be ready?

August 19, 2013

    Paige Baschuk, Daily Briefing

    There's an article in today's Daily Briefing about how New Zealand hospital administrators responded to a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in 2011, which devastated the city of Christchurch. But since that terrible disaster, the country's been tested again with a series of earthquakes—and just last week, New Zealand suffered an earthquake reportedly of 6.5 magnitude.  

    Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes cannot be predicted by meteorologists and experts—which is why preparation is so crucial. And New Zealand hospital leaders were prepared for the latest disasters to hit the region, thanks in part to the lessons of Christchurch. 

    If an earthquake hit your hospital today, would you be so fortunate?

    According to Arthur Bradley, a NASA senior engineer and author of The Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family, hospitals all over the United States—from California to New York—should have some earthquake preparedness plan.

    "While we have very detailed seismic measurement tools, predicting earthquakes with any degree of certainty has proven impossible," Bradley says. Therefore, hospitals should develop an internal plan to help manage the effects on staff inside the hospital as well as an external plan for the influx of victims who will be brought to the hospital.

    "Such plans and training are very low cost methods to save lives should a large earthquake occur," Bradley says. He added that hospitals also need a plan coordinating with providers outside of the affected area, should a whole community be hit by a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado.

    General knowledge about what to do in an earthquake

    Staff should have a basic knowledge of what to do and what to direct patients to do in an earthquake.

    According to Bradley, when an earthquake occurs at your hospital:

    • Staff should minimize moving to prevent tripping and incurring injuries;
    • Staff should get under sturdy furniture and avoid windows, bookshelves, and other possible hazards;
    • Patients should open the door (to prevent it from jamming) and stand under the doorframe;
    • Bed-bound patients should cover their head with pillows and ride out the shaking; and
    • Surgeons or those performing procedures on patients should stop, assuming the patient is stable.

    Moreover, Bradley recommends hospitals develop a plan now instead of waiting until state governments or the federal government mandate preparedness.

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