Skip to main content

Tips for preparing for a natural disaster


Whether your new independent practice is an area prone to wildfires or floods, hurricanes or earthquakes, you and your team need to be prepared for a natural disaster. Catastrophic natural events can impact your ability to deliver the quality healthcare your patients need and may even affect your new practice’s continued viability. Use these tips to prepare for a natural disaster and for any adverse event that could be detrimental to your practice and your patients.

Planning is always the key to preparing for and surviving a natural disaster. Prepare your clinical team with a “just in case” plan. First, evaluate any risks you may face, based on the probability of a disaster occurring and how prepared you are to deal with it. Then plan for managing those risks as well as how you will respond to the disaster itself.

For the independent practice, patient records are of utmost importance. When you work with a cloud-based electronic health record (EHR) system, you do not have to worry about equipment or software being damaged by a storm or other catastrophic event. Your EHR practice management system will help you maintain your operational status beyond the natural disaster. Keep in mind that your backup and recovery systems must all continue to be HIPAA compliant.

You can efficiently manage the operations behind your practice and reduce the burden of day-to-day administrative tasks with Elation’s EHR practice management system. Learn more here.

Other tips for preparing your new independent practice for a natural disaster include:

  • Consider the possibilities involved in a natural gas explosion, a burst water main, or a lightning strike, including the potential utility failures that may result.
  • Update the contact information of all local facilities in the event you need to evacuate or bring in extra help.
  • Develop a plan that is clear and simple to follow. Make sure all staff members know the plan but at least one person is in charge of maintaining and updating it.
  • Include evacuation steps in your disaster plan. All staff should be aware of where and how to evacuate and how to safely move patients if the need arises.
  • Keep an emergency kit on hand. The kit should include fresh batteries, flashlights, and basic medical supplies that are easily accessible.
  • Store paper documents in a safe place, preferably one that is fireproof and waterproof.

If your practice is located in a particularly vulnerable area, it is a good idea to rehearse your plan on a frequent and regular basis. Include all clinical team members and address any areas that may need improvement with the staff afterward. Run through various scenarios to determine where any flaws may be so that when/if a disaster does occur you know that everyone and everything will be as safe as possible.

Communication will be critical during a natural disaster, for your practice staff, for your patients, and for your community.

  • Keep in mind that power is likely to be down so you will need printed plans and a printed emergency contact list on hand and easily accessible. The contact list should include phone numbers and emails for government emergency agencies, local hospitals, patients, staff, vendors, and others.
  • Create a staff communication tree designating those team members who will make contact with others on the list.

Your plan should also include post-disaster instructions.

  • Stay in touch with clinical staff, particularly those who may find it difficult to return to the office.
  • Keep your patients updated on the status of your office. Depending on the power and technology status, you should leave a message on their phone, send out an email message, and/or post a message on your main website.
  • If your practice has been damaged in the disaster, be realistic about what it will retake to restore the office and how much time you will need to get back on track. You should also, if possible, set up a temporary office if the damage is too great to re-open your existing office.

An effective disaster preparedness plan will help ensure patient and staff safety and keep your practice focused on delivering care during an emergency. Now is the time to prepare, before a natural disaster strikes. For additional guidance, contact the Department of Patient Safety and Risk Management at (800) 421-2368 or by email.