Objective: To increase awareness of specific risks to healthcare systems during a natural or civil disaster. We describe the catastrophic disruption of essential services and the point-by-point response to the crisis in a major medical center.
Design: Case report, review of the literature, and discussion.
Setting: A 28-bed intensive care unit in a level I trauma center in the largest medical center in the world.
Case: In June 2001, tropical storm Allison caused >3 feet of rainfall and catastrophic flooding in Houston, TX. Memorial Hermann Hospital, one of only two level I trauma centers in the community, lost electrical power, communications systems, running water, and internal transportation. All essential hospital services were rendered nonfunctional. Life-saving equipment such as ventilators, infusion pumps, and monitors became useless. Patients were triaged to other medical facilities based on acuity using ground and air ambulances. No patients died as result of the internal disaster.
Conclusion: Adequate training, teamwork, communication, coordination with other healthcare professionals, and strong leadership are essential during a crisis. Electricity is vital when delivering care in today's healthcare system, which depends on advanced technology. It is imperative that hospitals take the necessary measures to preserve electrical power at all times. Hospitals should have battery-operated internal and external communication systems readily available in the event of a widespread disaster and communication outage. Critical services such as pharmacy, laboratories, blood bank, and central supply rooms should be located at sites more secure than the ground floors, and these services should be prepared for more extensive performances. Contingency plans to maintain protected water supplies and available emergency kits with batteries, flashlights, two-way radios, and a nonelectronic emergency system for patient identification are also very important. Rapid adaptation to unexpected adverse conditions is critical to the successful implementation of any disaster plan.