Key preparation for otolaryngologists is offered through the American College of Surgeons’ Advanced Trauma Life Support course and the American Medical Association’s online National Disaster Life Support Program, added G. Richard Holt, MD, MSE, MPH, MABE, professor emeritus in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and author of a paper on making ethical decisions in patient care during disasters (Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008;139(2):181-186).
Explore This IssueSeptember 2011
These programs “give an otolaryngologist the kind of preparation that goes well beyond general experience,” Dr. Holt said. “There are so many issues to consider. A SARS outbreak would be different from a tornado, which would be different again from an explosion at a chemical plant.”
Develop a Communications Strategy
The welfare of family, staff and patients is the next priority in disaster planning, so communications are key. Compile a list of emergency phone numbers for physicians, staff and family members, then create a detailed phone tree and store it in a secure location. Use your website as a message board where you can post updates about office hours and provide contact information for staff and patients, Dahl suggested. Use text messages or create an online chat group in a secure area of your website to distribute schedules and arrange meetings. Notify media contacts at the local television station, radio station and newspaper about the status of your office.
In the event of a major disaster, you’ll need an integrated strategy that might include a combination of landlines, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) access, remote toll-free numbers and walkie-talkies, Dahl noted. Ensure that physicians and key staff members have car chargers for their cell phones in case power lines go down, and consider adding a satellite phone to your emergency equipment in case cell towers are down.
Develop evacuation procedures in the event of imminent danger during business hours, such as a fire in the building or a tornado alarm, and practice these drills every year. Dr. Hanfling suggested coordinating your emergency plan with your local public health department, which networks with the federal Medical Reserve Corps to engage local providers in disaster planning.
You’ll also need to communicate with your community hospital, because otolaryngology is a critical specialty when mass casualties occur.
“There may be opportunities for otolaryngologists to volunteer at their hospitals, which are the primary sites where teams leave to care for patients or receive them,” Dr. Holt said. He serves on his hospital’s disaster response team to establish a comprehensive strategy, including deciding the most effective use of resources.