A recent health-care preparedness exercise has gone virtually unnoticed. FLurriccane 2011, a Finger Lakes Regional Exercise was designed to test preparedness for healthcare facilities in the face of an impending natural disaster. This exercise ran between May 16 in May 20, 2011 and was sponsored by the New York State Department of Health office of health emergency preparedness, finger Lakes regional resource Center and the New York State office of emergency management. Despite the commitment of hospitals, health departments, emergency management officials in a nine county area, this well-planned and well executed exercise remained unnoticed. It's hard to believe that that's the case knowing that this is one of the largest exercises in recent years.
At the heart of this exercise was a category five hurricane bearing down on Western New York. And while most people still believe that it can't happen here… this exercise showed us what might happen if in fact it did happen here. By all preliminary accounts of this exercise participants were well-prepared to carry out their emergency plans. While we wait for the after action reports, I can safely say this was one of the best exercises I've seen in some time. That is to say, I think it made a difference. I think it will save lives. I think lessons were learned.
I was tasked with running a tabletop exercise as a follow-up to the FLurricane exercise at a local community hospital. The focus of this particular tabletop was on evacuation of a hospital in senior living facility. Again, I think you made a difference. I think lives may be saved because of this training. I think lessons were learned.
The point is that we can no longer continue down the path of ignoring natural events. Our preparedness pendulum has swung so far towards the side of terrorism that we have continued to ignore the devastation of natural events… unless of course they occur in another country. I wonder if the outcomes of Hurricane Katrina would have been different if emergency managers and responders learned the lessons from Hurricane Pam?
Within the first six months of 2011 the United States has been victim to snowstorms crippling major cities, devastating floods, and most recently ferocious tornado activity. To illustrate the potentials take a look at the New York Times website… they have a fantastic aerial photograph series from Joplin, Missouri, that illustrates the impact to communities and infrastructure from natural events.
Yet much of the preparedness efforts and planning, training, and readiness go unnoticed and under reported. The value of this material appearing in the media is not to promote any hospital or health department. The true value of media coverage of these planning events and exercises is to illustrate to the public that there is a side of preparedness focused on community infrastructure rather than solely focused on terrorism. I believe that message is critical to maintaining confidence in our local governments during times of crisis.
Joplin Before and After the Tornado