Lessons Learned from the Joplin Tornado

Published: September 7, 2011

JOPLIN, Mo. — In May, as tornado sirens sounded, hospital workers at St. John’s Regional Medical Center rushed to pull 183 patients to safety as one of the largest tornadoes on record bared down on their southwestern Missouri city.

Though working effectively during an emergency was more than a challenge, it was not completely unfamiliar territory for St. John’s staff due to the extensive training and preparation they have implemented over the years.

“The most important thing we did right was having a good plan in place,” Dennis Manley, the hospital’s director of quality and risk management tells Campus Safety magazine. “We prepared. We had a written plan and a good plan for response as far as setting up our incident command structure and following it when the tornado hit.”

Realistic Disaster Preparedness Training Worked Wonders

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Two years prior to the disaster, Manley and others received training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala. This included Healthcare Leadership (HCL) for all-hazards incidents and Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) for mass-casualty incidents.

“The CDP training is about as close as you can get to the real thing,” Manley says. “I wanted realistic training, and the CDP delivered. There is no substitute to real-life experience, but the CDP training mimicked it very closely.”

The program is set up in a Nobel Training Center, which was once a hospital; therefore CDP attendees are able to practice drills in an environment almost identical to their actual workspace.

Manley attributes St. John’s successful evacuation during the May 22 tornado crisis to the hands-on training he received. He strongly advocates this type of preparation to other hospitals or care centers. 

“I believe that you do what you practice, and so it’s the practice of drills that’s important,” Manley says. “Your staff will know how to react whenever they’re faced with a situation like this.”

Staff Must Know Their Roles During a Crisis

According to Manley, the training not only enhanced his institution’s ability to respond to a mass casualty incident, but also provided an example of the many emergency roles his staff would tackle because of the tornado.

“You have to have a coordinated and clear response to a disaster. The individuals who are responding need to know their job and the roles that they need to fulfill,” Manley says. “It just helps you to respond appropriately and timely, and perhaps with a little more confidence.”

Manley and his team meet frequently to discuss their official emergency response plans. There are a number of ways in which they communicate their plans to staff members. These methods include designating safety leaders for each department who then share the information with their respective units.

Emergency plans and procedures are also routinely shared via educational staff seminars and in the hospital’s employee orientations.

Watch Where You Store Your Emergency Supplies

When the tornado hit St. John’s, the elevators stopped working, the electricity went out and staff members needed to evacuate patients down dark stairwells in a matter of minutes. While they were able to do so quite miraculously, the make-or-break situation helped them reevaluate their plan and realize some important things that only an actual disaster could uncover.

As the damage and debris accumulated inside St. John’s, Manley and his staff noticed that their emergency and disaster supplies — which were stored on clunky carts in one central area on the lower level of the hospital — were difficult to access.

“You need to make sure you have a way to either pre-position those supplies in areas where they might be needed, or to make them a little more portable,” says Manley. By doing this, hospital staff members can more easily get emergency supplies to the site of the disaster, or wherever they are most needed.

For more information on how your hospital can acquire hands-on disaster preparedness training, visit CDP’s website, or visit its list of directories.

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Brittni Rubin is an editorial assistant for Bobit Business Media.

Photo via Flickr, Mercy Health

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series