Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, Virginia Department of Health, and Regional Healthcare Coalitions Encourage the Public to Prepare for Emergency Situations Including Natural Disasters, Infectious Outbreaks, and Manmade Threats
September is National Preparedness Month, an annual observance that serves as a reminder of the importance for families and organizations to develop response plans to prepare for unexpected emergencies or disaster situations.
Emergency situations that have widespread impact can take many forms: natural disasters such as major storms that cause flooding, wind damage, property destruction, or power outages; biological hazards such as infectious disease outbreaks that spread across a population causing serious illness and strain on the health care system; or manmade events including acts of violence or other catastrophes that cause mass injuries and casualties.
During National Preparedness Month, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Commonwealth’s four Regional Healthcare Coalitions urge Virginians to develop plans for emergency situations. A family plan means preparation and discussion ahead of catastrophic events so everyone understands how they will communicate during an emergency and how they will reconnect when danger has passed. It also involves having a family list or form with information including important phone numbers, insurance contacts and other key medical and essential information needed for emergency response, as well as on-hand emergency supplies (water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, and a portable radio to access emergency alerts and warnings, and more). Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here. Emergency plans should contemplate what supplies, information, and documents families will need during shelter-in-place events, situations warranting evacuation to a safer location, or the need to search for loved ones after an emergency. Learn more about preparing at vaemergency.gov/prepare.
“Our experiences from recent years have demonstrated the critical importance of being ready to respond when emergencies happen,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “Emergency situations can occur at any time. Virginians across the Commonwealth have witnessed this in the form of major flooding in Hampton Roads and Southwest Virginia, a snowstorm that stranded motorists on the interstate in Northern Virginia, and the COVID-19 outbreak beginning in 2020. In each case, those emergencies developed quickly and presented serious health and public safety concerns for people impacted by them. When emergencies happen, hospitals are part of the critical infrastructure engaged in response efforts. Because of this, hospitals and other health care organizations partner with state and federal government agencies to conduct ongoing emergency preparation and planning efforts. Just as these organizations plan for the worst, it is vital for families and private sector firms to also have regularly updated plans that can be activated when an emergency happens.”
“I urge Virginians to take time during National Preparedness Month to assess how prepared they and their families are for coping with disasters and emergencies,” said State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton, MD. “Do you have enough water and non-perishable food on hand to last for several days if everything shut down? Do you have your mobile phone set up to receive emergency alerts? If you had to evacuate, where would you go and how would you get there? Have you made plans for your pet if you had to evacuate to a shelter? These are some of the questions we all should be thinking about year-round as disasters come in all forms and can happen anytime. VDH and its Local Health Districts provide oversight of many emergency response functions, including monitoring for disease outbreaks, insuring food and water safety, and mass casualty management.”
This year, the theme of National Preparedness Month is “Take Control in 1, 2, 3.” Its focus is on helping elderly individuals, including those from communities that are disproportionally impacted by the all-hazard events and threats, prepare for emergencies. Additional information and resources about emergency preparation and planning are available through Ready.gov and the Red Cross.
For businesses, Ready.gov recommends conducting a risk assessment to identify potential emergency scenarios as part of the development of an emergency response plan consistent with organizational objectives and focused on protecting staff, visitors, contractors and others on premises if an emergency occurs.
In Virginia, critical public and private sector organizations collaborate to conduct ongoing planning preparation activities to be ready when disaster strikes. This includes VHHA, its member hospitals and health system, and VDH. These organizations partner on the Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program (VHEMP), an initiative supported with grant funding from the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Hospital Preparedness Program under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). VHHA and VDH work through VHEMP to address gaps in the health care delivery system regarding the ability to respond to disaster situations. This work is facilitated by a network of four regional healthcare coalitions (the Central Virginia Healthcare Coalition, the Eastern Virginia Healthcare Coalition, the Northern Virginia Emergency Response System, and the Southwest Virginia Healthcare Coalition) that work with health care facilities and response organizations to help prepare for emergency response situations. Each regional healthcare coalition maintains a Regional Healthcare Coordination Center (RHCC) to support response activities during a disaster affecting health care facilities.
The extent of meaningful cooperation between government agencies, health systems, and regional coalitions is reflected in the effectiveness of Virginia’s emergency response apparatus. The Commonwealth has been recognized several times in recent years for its high level of preparation for public health emergencies. That includes the latest report by Trust for America’s Health, Ready or Not 2023: Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, which again places Virginia in the top tier of states for emergency readiness. The report measures state levels of preparedness to respond to a wide range of health emergencies including infectious outbreaks, natural disasters, and manmade events. Previous annual reports from Trust for America’s Health – including those compiled during the lengthy response to the COVID-19 pandemic – also ranked Virginia in the top tier of states in 2022, 2021, and 2020. Virginia has also been ranked among the top states in the National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHPSI) report that evaluates state readiness to respond to public health emergencies.