practice management

How to Weather Storms and Other Emergencies at your Pediatric Practice

Whether your office is located on the West or East Coast, on the coast of the Pacific Northwest or in the middle of the plains, emergencies happen. Weather, natural disasters, and unpredictable circumstances can lead to uncertain situations for your pediatric practice. Here’s how to prepare for emergencies to protect your patients, practice, and community when you’re needed most.

Write, Update, and Distribute Your Emergency Plan

Does your practice have an emergency plan to account for procedures and guidelines in emergencies? If not, taking the time to record an emergency plan provides a vital resource for staff and families in an emergency and prevents miscommunication, gaps in care, and wasted time and resources. Your emergency plan should include:

  • Natural disasters common to your geography (e.g. floods, blizzards, earthquakes)
  • Procedures for care in the event of individual emergencies
  • A list of important contacts, such as staff, local relief shelters, state and local officials, and local hospitals
  • Guidelines on removing care and resources to an alternate location or to operate with limited staff
  • A vital part of a plan would include alternatives to pediatric care should the normal course of action not be possible (for example, if there is no electricity or the practice is evacuated)
  • Emergency plans should be updated annually. While training for emergencies is vital, your staff should at least acknowledge they have read the emergency plan by signing it.

Prep Your Emergency Kit

Well beyond first aid, your practice should have the appropriate resources available should care be required in extenuating circumstances like a power outage, inclement weather, and even a mass casualty incident. This kit’s supplies should be in an accessible place, and according to the American Red Cross, should include items such as:

  • Water and non-perishable items
  • Flashlights and lanterns
  • Radio
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Blanket

While the Red Cross’s recommendations are primarily for homes and families, adjustments can be made to suit a pediatric practice, such as the addition of spare clipboards and paper copies of forms, emergency contacts, and shock blankets. 

Get Involved With Community and State Emergency Plans

There are emergency plans for every state and local municipality. Inquire for copies of the existing plans or volunteer to help create or update one. The ideal emergency preparation involves the coordination of public health officials, independent pediatricians, hospitals, and clinics to care for populations in coordination with one another.

Your role may not end in the planning stages. Your practice could be listed as a center for community assistance, or you may wish to volunteer your time and presence at a larger health center or hospital.

Prepare and Practice, Practice, Practice

Where is the nearest community shelter? Where should staff and patients go if a storm hits suddenly? Where are the fire escapes and how will you evacuate everyone safely? If you already know the answers to these preparedness questions, you’re halfway there. The second half of preparedness is practice.

Practice fire drills and lockdown procedures -- if you choose to, involve patients and families in your drills, but allow them to opt-out or post signs on entrances to make families aware. There should be escape routes from every room in the office, preferably two or more.

If your staff agrees, it may be more convenient to take a full day to practice these kinds of safety drills, allowing staff to practice both emergency medical procedures they may not often perform and also evacuate, calm, and reassure young patients in the event of an emergency.

Protect Data & Assets

You know that data -- yours and patients’ -- is possibly the most valuable asset your practice has. Protect it from harm during an unexpected emergency. This includes caring for hardware and software. Your practice’s physical assets, such as vaccines, are very important to safeguard too.

  • Make a plan for hardware such as laptops, printers, and PCs during emergencies like floods or evacuation
  • Back up data
  • Know what insurance covers in the event of accidents and disasters, including office space, vaccines, and equipment
  • Have a plan to transport vaccines and other sensitive assets 
  • Determine a system to notify patients in the event of emergencies, such as a data breach, evacuation, or other event that restricts access to information


Care for Children Before, During, and After Disaster

In disasters and emergencies, mental and emotional care is as important as physical care. In emergency planning, make plans for addressing patients’ mental healthcare post-disaster, whether it’s a follow up visit or referral to specialist care.

In the event of emergency, it’s likely not everything goes to plan. Plan to meet with staff after such an event to see what went wrong, what went well, and how your staff can support each other and your patients more effectively.

Remember that your practice is one of the most trusted places in a community in the event of an emergency. No act of reassurance is too small, so make sure to pack some packets of prepared hot cocoa or lemonade and some stickers in your emergency kit that your patients -- and staff -- can turn to for comfort.

Practice security doesn't only extend to weather or other emergencies -- it's important to take care of your practice's digital security, too. Learn how to implement the security risk assessments and protocols that keep your patients' data secure with tips from Marissa Maldonado of the Coker Group in this archived Users' Conference webinar.

How to Implement Health and Human Services Recommended  Cybersecurity Practices

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and editor of The Independent Pediatrician. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.