Random acts of violence fall into that category of events that you want to be prepared for but wished you lived in a world where you didn't have to be.

Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, wrote earlier this week that America's hospitals "prepare for the expected and the unthinkable," and recounted one hospital CEO's comments of living under a "'new normal' for necessary readiness, as well as maintaining a safe environment for staff, patients and families."

His comments underscore a recent notice from the Department of Homeland Security, advising hospitals and public health officials to review their emergency response plans with staff. DHS issued four action points for health care officials to address in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

  • Review security plans and exercise them regularly, using scenarios based on tactics recently used.
  • Reinforce with employees that they are positioned best to enforce these plans if they are familiar with the surroundings; are attentive to what's common and what is not through being vigilant throughout their shifts and across work areas; and if they report in a timely manner to appropriate authorities.
  • Review active shooter, suspicious activity reporting and counter improvised explosive device, or IED, preparedness in training and awareness initiatives and in organizational safety briefings.
  • Ensure proper functioning of emergency communications equipment and conduct regular tests.

As hospitals review and revise their readiness plans, the Health & Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is updating its Hospital Preparedness Program and encouraging hospitals to participate in a secure information-sharing forum called the Technical Resources, Assistance Center and Information Exchange, or TRACIE.

Hospitals not only have to be ready to respond to incidents that occur within their walls, but also for those that happen in the community. For instance, once it received word of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 2, Loma Linda University Medical Center immediately prepped its emergency department (ED) staff and gathered triple the number of physicians usually staffed in the ED. Within 15 minutes of receiving the news, emergency response trauma teams were stationed at the department's front entrance. 

The medical center states that surprise drills that review processes for a number of incidents and are conducted once every three months, keep its staff up-to-date on best practices and ready to respond to whatever comes its way.


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