When an emergency occurs, the time to prepare has passed!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis is the end of the first week of Hurricane Season, and I’ve been keeping a closer eye on my fuel gauge. I’ve also started taking additional precautions to prepare for the possibility of tropical weather in our area. The more I add to my emergency kit, the more I wonder why is it only during Hurricane Season that I make these preparations? After all, anyone who has watched the news or has lived in the Houston-Galveston region for any period of time can affirm that weather-related and other adverse events can be unpredictable, and that we should always be prepared in case of an emergency.

Many at UTMB have experienced adverse situations, with Hurricane Ike in September 2008 being one of the most prominently remembered. During these times, many of you were asked to stay onboard to help ensure that our patients would continue receiving the important care they needed, to help protect our facilities and to ensure our operations continued. Fortunately, these circumstances are rare; however, we realize that while we are busy caring for our patients first, it can be stressful because of the concerns we also have for our homes, loved ones, dependents and pets. Likewise, our friends and family will be concerned about our well-being during an emergency, and we should be sure we have communication systems in place to let them know we’re okay.

While UTMB Health is no stranger to storms, there are many additional emergency situations for which we should also be prepared. For example, the 1947 Texas City Disaster is a part of UTMB’s history and an important reminder that technological and accidental hazards are a possibility. There are also situations like pandemic outbreaks that, although seemingly less likely to occur than a weather-related event, would be a mistake to dismiss. Being prepared and ready to adapt to changing circumstances is important—having an emergency preparedness plan in place before something happens is crucial.

Where to begin? Websites like www.ready.gov and www.utmb.edu/emergency_plan can help guide you in making your preparations and offer a number of checklists to get you started. One of the first steps in emergency preparedness is to have a basic disaster supply kit that includes water, non-perishable food for people and pets, batteries, a weather radio, flashlight, first aid kit, sanitation and hygiene items, matches and other tools. Other important items you’ll want to be sure you have on-hand include all necessary medications you and your family require—it’s important to have enough available in case you cannot get them immediately refilled; having a list of all your medications is also important if you need to visit a health care professional outside of your health care network. As a UTMB patient, signing up for MyChart is an easy way to ensure you have access to this and other personal health care information for yourself and your dependents. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to sign up for MyChart!

The next step is to develop a communication plan with your family. Emergencies can happen at any time. Does your family know how to get in touch with one another? It may be that as employees, we are asked to stay for an extended time at UTMB, and we may be away for hours or even days. Or, we may not be at work or home at the time of an emergency. Lines of communication could be temporarily down or unavailable due to call volumes. It’s important to have a family discussion to determine how you will contact one another, where you will go in case of emergency, and to make arrangements for the care of dependents and pets.

For these reasons and others, it is also important to complete the Employee Acknowledgement Form and be familiar with the Business Continuity Plan for your UTMB unit or department. Understand how the plan is activated and by whom. Be aware of your role at UTMB before, during and after emergency. Please keep in mind that if you are currently classified as a non-essential employee, you could potentially be designated as an essential employee during an emergency. For complete details about staffing during adverse conditions, review IHOP Policy 3.1.1. In addition, “Shelter in Place/Ride Out Team” information can be found on UTMB’s HR page.

Finally, it’s important to stay informed. There are important differences among potential emergencies that should impact the decisions you make and the actions you take. Hazardous events and serious weather conditions may come with very little warning. A useful source of information on weather updates for the Houston-Galveston area is www.weather.gov. You can also find important general updates on iUTMB, through UTMB Alerts, via UTMB’s Facebook page and your UTMB email account.

I hope we will remain safe throughout the Hurricane Season and throughout the years to come, but when it comes to emergency situations, it’s better to have a plan—when an emergency occurs, the time to prepare has passed!