While health facilities professionals must keep an eye on the trends that will influence their organizations far into the future, they also need to stay up-to-date with the more timely issues that may affect hospitals in the short term.

Indeed, given their roles as community resources, hospitals often are thrust into national news stories, providing health facilities professionals with cautionary tales and opportunities for improvement. Three such instances immediately come to mind.

• Natural disasters. The damage and dislocation caused by Hurricane Sandy is obvious when one considers that New York City's Bellevue Hospital only recently returned to full service. Contemporary news stories recounted flooding and electrical power issues. All of this provides a reminder to review and test emergency plans for natural disasters as well as to assess emergency power vulnerabilities.

• Security. The tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., once again has put a spotlight on gun violence in public facilities. As noted by the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety in 2012, a key to defending against gun-violence scenarios in hospitals is having a well-trained, professional security team that functions under a well-conceived security plan.

• Pandemics. This year's flu epidemic led to instances of strained resources and overcrowded emergency departments, causing some hospitals to treat patients in halls and tents. As chaotic as the situation seemed, it provided a hint of much more severe conditions that would arise during a pandemic and the need to review response procedures.

In each of these cases, preparation is key. If health facilities professionals are unsure how their plans may stack up, now is the time to test them.