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Ready for Hurricane Season


This article first appeared as a column in the 2024 May issue of South Florida Hospital News

By Mary Mayhew, FHA President and CEO

Floridians are resilient. We have experienced many challenges, and we continually emerge stronger and better prepared. While some challenges are hopefully infrequent and rare, that is, of course, not the case for weather events in the Sunshine State. June 1 marks the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Running through November 30, this season is predicted to be one of the most active on record, according to forecasters at the Colorado State University, with 23 storms, 11 of which will become hurricanes and five of which will reach Category 3 status or stronger.

Knowing this potential forecast and season of storms is simply another reminder about the importance of vigilance and preparedness. For Florida’s hospitals, it is a laser beam focus on protecting life and safety, preserving critical health care infrastructure to ensure access before, during, and after a storm. For years, hospitals have been hardening their facilities to withstand hurricane-force winds and making critical investments to support physical plant operations in response to flooding and surge.

All Florida hospitals, no matter their size or location, have an operational, comprehensive, and all-hazards emergency management plan to govern emergency response before, during, and after a storm with the goal of maintaining a safe care environment for patients and staff. These plans reflect regulatory changes and requirements and new best practices in emergency response as well as lessons learned from the management of previous crises. County emergency management officials review these plans annually for comprehensiveness and accuracy, and hospitals conduct at least two exercises a year to test, drill, and practice their plans to identify any areas of needed improvement and to ensure their teams understand how to operationalize the plan in an actual emergency.

When hurricanes threaten, communities have a small advantage of foreknowledge. Hospitals activate their emergency response. They mobilize around-the-clock command centers to communicate and coordinate with local officials and inform critical decisions governing patient care and continued operations.

With patient and staff safety at the forefront of all decision-making, hospitals evaluate whether evacuations ahead of storm landfall are necessary. The purpose of the hardening and critical improvements is to avoid, when possible, patient evacuations, which are disruptive to patients, and to preserve hospitals’ operations to respond to the needs of the community.

When hurricane Ian hit in 2022, it was the loss of the public water supply that threatened operations at hospitals in Lee County. Hospitals around the state immediately responded to support any needed patient evacuations. Local hospitals in the region most affected by Ian continued to care for all their patients, responded to significant demand in their emergency rooms, and secured alternative water supplies while working with local officials to restore the public water supply.

Each storm presents hospitals with an opportunity to evaluate their emergency response plans in real-time and real-world scenarios, identifying areas for refinement. Hospitals often resort to paper and manual processes, face communication disruptions, and test new flood wall designs, among other areas of focus. Looking ahead, hospitals have identified key areas to strengthen for future preparedness, response, and recovery activities, including external communications, emergency operations coordination, and facility and plant equipment management. The proactive approach of hospitals in improving their response plans immediately after a storm is a testament to their commitment to the community’s safety.

Every year, Floridians are asked to “make a plan” for hurricane season. Preparedness is the key to weathering any storm safely. Florida’s hospitals share that commitment to preparedness, and they invest in people, infrastructure, technology, and procedures to minimize any disruption in their 24/7 operations to the greatest extent possible.

This year’s hurricane season is predicted to be significant. Make a plan, be prepared, follow local and state guidance, and trust that your local hospital is doing everything it can to remain a trusted port in whatever storm comes ashore.

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