Disaster Management and Natural Disasters

Disasters are not routine, but the ways to deal with them must be integrated into routine activities.

Though certain indications are available regarding an impending disaster, healthcare organizations may not be the first ones to know about them. For instance, initial information about a possible terrorist attack may reach the law enforcement and other government security agencies first. The meteorological service will know about a natural disaster first. There are standard responses such that information will flow to healthcare organizations. This may take a few minutes or a few hours depending on the nature of the disaster.

Emergencies are handled many times as codes, such as a code red for a fire. Conducting mock codes helps to prepare for these emergencies. Facilities now conduct emergency drills that prepare their staff for the threat of terrorism. Drills are very important, especially for those who do not have any experience with similar situations. Simulations go a long way in preparing providers for the situations they will encounter. Joint disaster drills conducted by hospitals and local agencies ensure that there will be a coordinated response to the emergency.

Advance warning about a threat quite often includes an estimate of the scale of the problem. For example, according to a news report, the United Nations bird flu coordinator has said that if precautionary measures are not taken, the death toll from the disease could be anything between five million and 150 million. Countries with sound healthcare infrastructure have already initiated measures to counter the threat (ABC News, 2005).

There is medical speculation (Columbia Center, 2011) that exposure to various toxic products and gases in the air around of the WTC after the attack may have negative effects on fetal development. Due to this potential harm, a notable children’s environmental health center is currently analyzing the children whose mothers were pregnant during the WTC collapse, and were living or working near the WTC towers. This study assesses the children every year using psychological testing and interviews the mothers every six months. The purpose of the study is to determine whether there is significant difference in development and health progression of children whose mothers were exposed versus those who were not exposed after the WTC collapse.

What does this mean for disaster management? Disaster management will have to include identification of pregnant women, application of preventive measures if any are available, and monitoring to detect signs of fetal damage or developmental problems.

Disasters have financial consequences, too. While the government steps in with emergency aid, rebuilding the economy takes time. There is fallout for the healthcare industry. Reimbursements may not be immediately affected. However, insurers, including health insurers, suffer losses.

Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. (2011). 10 years later, understanding the environmental health effects of 9/11. Retrieved from  http://ccceh.org/

ABC News. (2005, October 1). UN coordinator mulls avian flu threat. ABCNews. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Flu/story?id=1175727

 

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