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February 19, 2019 (Cleveland)

Polar Vortex Tests Hospital Emergency Preparedness



Polar Vortex Tests Hospital Emergency PreparednessOn the heels of Winter Storm Jayden, which brought significant snowfall to Northeast Ohio in late January, temperatures plunged in the region due to a polar vortex that blasted the area with below-zero temperatures. This scenario set off a real-life opportunity for healthcare agencies to test their emergency response plans and enabled hospitals and other organizations to fulfill Medicare requirements for participation in a community-based full-scale exercise or event. 

The Center for Health Affairs provided briefings from the National Weather Service (NWS) to the Northeast Ohio Healthcare Coalition. This allowed organizations to consult their emergency operations plans for policies and procedures needed to mitigate the possible impact of the cold air mass on their infrastructure and day-to-day operations. What started out as a wind chill watch later became an advisory and eventually ended up as a warning by the NWS, indicating wind chills of below 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for more than a few hours.

The Center’s emergency preparedness experts initiated an information-sharing process by requesting situational reports from coalition hospitals and healthcare facilities. This allowed participating organizations to report any issues they were facing that could benefit from assistance in the form of resources or support from response partners. Across the region, 135 hospitals and other agencies participated.

Additionally, hospitals and healthcare agencies were provided with information they could share with patients and employees about warming centers and shelters in the five-county region.

Impacts of the polar vortex on coalition partners included:

  • Water main breaks that resulted in flooding and low water pressure in affected areas.
  • Burst pipes within buildings.
  • Maintenance issues with heating systems.
  • An increase in emergency department visits, with many patients seeking treatment for trauma resulting from falls.

The event demonstrated significant strengths among hospitals and other participating agencies, which were proactive in utilizing their emergency operations plans and policies to mitigate issues resulting from the frigid weather. They successfully utilized the online tools to report infrastructure status and used their emergency operations and communications plans to inform staff, patients and families of changes in operations to ensure safety.

Actual events such as the polar vortex allow organizations across the community to put their preparedness training and planning into practice. That they were able to smoothly and effectively operationalize their plans demonstrates the value of that work.

MORE: For more on The Center’s emergency preparedness work, contact us.

TWEETABLE: The latest #PolarVortex put hospitals’ emergency response plans to the test. Click to learn more about the frigid weather’s impact on @neohospitals...