Hospitals and healthcare facilities are anchor institutions in our communities when it comes to safety and well-being during a time of crisis. They play a major role in most emergencies that happen — environmental incidents, vehicular accidents, infrastructure disasters, and active intruder or shooter tragedies. Because of the role they play in emergencies, they themselves must be even more prepared for emergencies that might happen at their facilities. Not only must they inform and guide the patients who visit these type of facilities, but the doctors and nurses, workers, and visitors inside must also be made aware and prepared for what to do next. No one day is the same and no one individual is the same who enters, so these centers must be ready for anything that comes their way. Ensuring they keep everyone safe means informing their constituents of an emergency and what guidance to follow if there is one.
Many healthcare facilities are large and can take up several floors and several city blocks. There are a lot of moving parts in a healthcare facility. Hospitals house more rooms and areas that just patient rooms. Hospitals have their own IT departments, safety and security teams, HR and legal, as well as specialized medical areas that are all separate. This means that a reliable emergency response system must be used to deliver messages to multiple groups of people in every corner of the healthcare center. Keeping in control of a situation in a facility like a hospital means alerting your security team to guard or lock the doors, informing doctors and nurses to keep patients contained, and also possibly informing each individual of what they should do. These notifications must be sent and received as soon as an emergency happens.
Healthcare environments face a unique set of risks from the diverse and often stressed collection of people on-site at any given time. Safety officials within a healthcare facility must be prepared to manage this population in a variety of crisis situations, including violence that requires a lockdown, increased patient volumes resulting in elevated staffing requests, and large-scale community disasters.
For a hospital like United Regional in Wichita Falls, Texas who has over 2,000 personal and directors reaching every single person can be difficult. Located directly in Tornado Alley, they’re a comprehensive cardiac care facility and a Level III trauma center to care for its 350,000 person population. They have a big responsibility to care for any medical need from their residents. Jacky Betts, United Regional’s director of trauma and hospital preparedness, needed a mass notification system that would deliver notifications to designated staff members quickly and efficiently.
Having been flooded by tornado victims in the past, Betts knew they needed a reliable mass notification system that was able to send out unique messages to specific groups of people. Previous to using Omnilert, they used a pyramid system where each manager had to call those directly under them who in turn had to then call those employees directly under them. This was too large a task to complete when seconds matter, lives are at stake.
When United Regional uses the system to send alerts - either emergency or non-emergency - Betts says, it’s “extremely effective in reaching the employees. It’s very easy for them,” he adds. “They get a text message that tells them what to do and when. They don’t have to call anyone; they can just respond or do whatever is necessary.” This takes away the multiple extra phone calls needed in their previous system.
Betts knows that when a mass alert needs to be sent, they can rely on Omnilert to get the message out accurately and quickly, making sure that every single person received the message that was meant for them.
In order to really ensure you’re reaching every employee, medical attendant, patient, and visitor you must use redundancy. Sending alerts through texts and email is not enough to successfully reach your people or to reach everyone in a hospital. Using other avenues of communication such as digital signage, desktop computers, or integration with fire alarms could significantly increase the number of people who see or hear the emergency alert. Beyond that, you must be certain to include guidance with each emergency notification. Adopting a mass notification system with functionality like Scenarios® ensures each group of people gets the correct, unique information they need for their location and situation. This allows you to tell your staff inside the distribution center to stay inside while at the same time informing the equipment center to take shelter indoors. With proper planning and then a push of a button, different groups, locations, and connected devices can receive specific and different actions and guidance based upon the emergency and the need.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), and its clinical partner Nebraska Medicine, service a large number of patients in and around Omaha. Together they have 12,000 employees, 55,000 emergency room visits each year, and 400,000 outpatient visits annually. For a hospital that has the lives of so many people in under its roof, a reliable and fast mass notification system is necessary to spread accurate information to the necessary recipients.
Their Security Dispatch Center - who is responsible for sending out these emergency alerts - uses Scenarios®. UNMC has quite a few Scenarios set up to help their crisis communications. Two, in particular, they use often are their Scenarios set up for Tornado Warnings and Tornado Watches. Once these are launched, text messages are sent to the specified Groups and Desktop Alerts are launched all around the hospital. John Hauser, Safety Manager at UNMC, says “Scenarios have opened the door to activating alerts quickly and with the addition of custom messaging you have the ability to provide descriptive information about the emergency.” They are also able to launch Scenarios from their desktop computers or via mobile phone when they aren’t near their computers.
The best crisis response is one that relies more on automation than on the human touch. People are especially fallible during high-stress events like crises, so it’s imperative to pursue the most ideal forms of notification, action, and response. To learn more about how how UNMC plans for emergencies download their case study.