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How to Run Effective Emergency Drills in the Healthcare Sector

Paul Neyman

How to Run Effective Emergency Drills in the Healthcare Sector

For healthcare facilities, running tests is an integral part of the day-to-day. Checks, double-checks, triple-checks, and backup checks are constantly being administered. When slip-ups can mean the difference between life and death, hospitals take as few chances as possible.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have started requiring that healthcare facilities comply with national emergency preparedness requirements. An effective response to a crisis is required by these rules.

When the consequences are this serious, you need to take formal precautions. That means running detailed, objective-driven drills with effective critical communication solutions. Here are the top tips for running effective emergency drills in the healthcare sector.

Step 1: Scoping The Drill

In a hospital, knowing the full scope of a drill is half the battle. There are so many logistics to be considered, including:

  • What is effected in an electrical outage?
  • What data is confidential and how could it be breached?
  • Where are the top priority patients?
  • Where are the exits and which ones are accessible for everyone?
  • How do teams communicate internally and across other teams and buildings?
  • How do you minimize panic for hospital visitors?
  • Does this facility contain any laboratories?
  • What crisis communication software is being used?
  • What regulations need to be considered?
  • What happens to patients and personnel who are in the middle of an operation?

Think about scope before you break down a drill. It’s likely that when you’re running drills, not every team will participate at once. Set a quantitative number of objectives for any drill you run, so that you can conduct a straightforward critique of the drill after it happens.

You can divide drills into teams, departments, and buildings. You should also be aware of which facilities and resources will be used for the drill, since there are rules and regulations surrounding the use of many of these pieces.

Lastly, think about how you can simulate emergencies without actually recreating the cause and effect, since you may not have the luxury of pulling a fire alarm or setting up a pretend disaster without causing mass panic.

Step 2: Divide Drills By Category

A hospital or healthcare facility needs to plan for the worst. One effective way to break down your emergency response plans is by category. What can go wrong, and within that sphere, what is the specific type of disaster that might occur? Every region and facility setup is different, but here is a list to start to build from:

  • Natural Disasters
    • Earthquake
    • Tornado
    • Flood
    • Snowstorm
    • Ice
    • Hurricane
  • Human Error and Issues
    • Chemical/toxic materials spill or leak
    • Security threat
    • Violence
    • Fire
  • Technology Error
    • Data breach
    • Communications system failure
    • Outages
  • Health-Related Crisis
    • Disease outbreak
    • Pandemic

Step 3: Designate Individuals and Teams for All Key Positions

If you were running a less complex drill, you might just have participants and a manager or leader. In this case, you should plan to have several roles fulfilled in order to make your drill most effective. Only then should you run your drill.

These roles should include:

  • Educators - individuals who will make sure everyone is trained on the course of the drill and knows what to do
  • Responders - which parties will respond when an emergency alarm goes off? Do you require the assistance of external agencies or emergency personnel from outside the hospital? Who needs to be notified?
  • Leaders - which individuals or teams are responsible for making sure everyone carries out their responsibilities? These individuals should serve as the control to make sure the drill is going as planned, and should be trained to look for signs that something is amiss
  • Non-participants - In a healthcare facility, there will generally be people who are not trained on a drill and won’t know what’s happening; it’s important to factor these parties into a drill
  • Evaluators - these individuals may be the same as the educators; they will give a breakdown of the drill after it happens and evaluate the efficacy

Step 4: The Evaluation

Because the consequences could be so dire, you want to put a lot of time into planning your drill. As a general rule, feel comfortable to plan it as much as 6-8 months ahead of time. Also, put as much time into evaluating your drill as you do planning it. Immediately after the drill is run, or up to a few days after, conduct your evaluation. Think about the following factors:

  • How many objectives did you meet?
  • How long did the drill take?
  • Were there any communication breakdowns?
  • Were all resources used as planned?

Once your drill is complete, use the evaluation to tweak your emergency response plan. Effective planning will mean that you have real-life, quantitative takeaways from the drill. Ideas are one thing, but concrete objective-setting will ensure that you’re actually improving your overall emergency response.

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Paul Neyman
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