Help for Hospitals Handling Patient Surges

Here’s a free hospital security planning resource designed to help healthcare organizations manage security and public health emergencies.

Help for Hospitals Handling Patient Surges

In light of the current coronavirus outbreak, Campus Safety is rerunning this timely article on patient surges that’s been updated by the author.


Hospitals hold a unique place in the planning for public health emergencies. Not only must they continue to function during such critical situations, but patient surges (in which a large number of patients arrive at a facility in a relatively short period of time) could occur.

If proper planning and consideration are not given to security and traffic control issues, such events can drastically impact a healthcare facility, creating chaos and disrupting the hospital’s ability to provide much needed medical care for the community.

Be Prepared for the Walking Worried

As a rule, no one comes to a hospital because they want to. During a disaster, be it a pandemic, a chemical or radiation contamination event or a natural or manmade catastrophe, a large number of people will be descending upon local healthcare facilities.

It could be due to their own injuries or to obtain treatment for family members or friends. Perhaps they want to get checked out just in case. This is a situation sometimes referred to as the “walking worried,” such as when the Sarin gas release event occurred in Tokyo in 1995 and during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. Thousands of unaffected people flooded local hospitals out of panic and quickly overwhelmed their capacity to provide medical treatment.

In such a patient surge, there is normally no intention to disrupt medical care or treatment for others or to harm the hospital. Then again, no single raindrop feels responsible for a flood. A patient surge resulting from a public health event is something that every hospital should be prepared for.

They must have processes and plans in place to mitigate the security and traffic related problems that accompany such events.

With these potential problems in mind, the “On the Safe Side” Toolkit was developed to assist hospitals, public health agencies and local law enforcement in planning for and responding to public health emergencies that might occur in their communities. This toolkit was developed by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Region 7’s Advanced Practice Center program and its regional, state and national partners in 2009/2010. It was updated in 2012 and still applies today.

Patient Surge Toolkit Is Easy to Use, Free

The toolkit is free and designed to give preparedness planners easy access to many of the materials they will need to appropriately respond to such emergencies. It will help them develop effective hospital security and traffic management plans for medical patient surges and other emergency situations; create a point of dispensing site security and traffic management plan for mass prophylaxis and medication distribution; prepare for and host a hospital and law enforcement multidisciplinary training workshop; and assist healthcare facilities in hosting a hospital and law enforcement security-based tabletop exercise to better prepare for such events.

The toolkit has been designed to be straightforward, easy to use and intuitive, since all of the documents and templates provided are available in Microsoft Word. Most of the documents in it can be quickly edited or customized to suit an agency’s or hospital’s specific requirements by simply saving them to a PC and then making the required changes.

If a user has a basic working knowledge and minimal experience with Microsoft Office applications, then he or she will be right at home in using these documents. Whether using the documents from this toolkit to enhance existing emergency plans and processes or to build a new plan from scratch, the “On the Safe Side” Toolkit is incredibly useful for both novice hospital security planners and seasoned emergency management personnel.

Resource Provides Several Templates

The “On the Safe Side” Toolkit contains several useful templates, including a Point of Dispensing (POD) Site Security and Traffic Management Template, a Hospital Surge Security Template, a Law Enforcement and Healthcare Workshop Template and a Security-Based Tabletop Exercise Template plus various resources and support materials.

The POD (a location established to deliver appropriate pharmaceuticals or prophylaxis/vaccinations to the public) template includes sections to assist with POD site selection, site suitability assessment, security measures, traffic management assessment and a POD field operations guide. Components also include:

  • Facility and Contact Information
  • Facility Assessment — Exterior
  • Facility Assessment — Interior
  • General Facility Safety
  • Product Security and Storage
  • Facility Ingress and Egress
  • Security Points for Patient Care
  • Parking
  • POD Flow
  • Summary of Security Needs
  • Appendices — Site Diagrams
  • The Hospital Surge Security Template includes both infrastructure and patient surge assessment forms. It also includes useful diagrams that allow a user to copy and paste digital photos, screen captures, blue prints or any type of image file onto one of a number of predesigned Microsoft Word templates. These are equipped with built-in icons depicting various clinical and security personnel, vehicles, traffic barriers, and structures. The icons can be dragged and dropped onto the pasted image and then saved or printed to create a quick visual illustration of a traffic management plan for a facility. With a little practice, this can be done within minutes, offering a true just-in-time capability to traffic and security management for a patient surge event.
  • The Law Enforcement and Healthcare Workshop and Security-Based Tabletop Exercise Templates are likewise very easy to use and offer a wide variety of timesaving forms that are useful when setting up training exercises. The forms include a detailed planning guide, customizable save-the-date, registration and participant and program evaluation forms plusexercise scenarios and in-depth facilitator and participant guides.

Toolkit Can Be Downloaded

The “On the Safe Side” Toolkit provides enhanced security planning capabilities for public health emergencies and surge events for hospitals and healthcare security professionals. It is designed to be used to engage law enforcement in planning for and responding to public health emergencies, to enhance security planning for points of pharmaceutical dispensing and to augment security planning for hospitals and alternate care sites during patient surge events.

By working together towards a common goal of leading excellence in healthcare security, safety and emergency management, the creators of the “On the Safe Side” Toolkit and associated healthcare security and emergency management professionals are continuing to evolve the healthcare security industry body of knowledge through innovation and education in order to better protect the healthcare environment.


Bryan Warren, MBA, CHPA, CPOI is a healthcare security consultant, author and speaker and is president/chief consultant of War-Sec Security (www.warsecsecurity.com).

About the Author

Brian Warren
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Bryan Warren, MBA, CHPA, CPOI, is a security consultant for the healthcare industry.

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