A while back I wrote about how HCA prepares for hurricanes, 77 hospitals at a time. But hurricanes are one of many natural disasters that we have to prepare for each year. It’s true that some disasters we train for never happen but it’s still important to be prepared – just look at the recent emergency drill by New York City. And since we have hospitals across the U.S. we come into contact with a variety of incidents brought about by natural disasters.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, floods, and volcanic eruptions are just some of the emergencies that HCA has responded to over the past few years.  With 165 hospitals, 115 surgery centers, and over 500 physician practices in 20 states and the United Kingdom, each day brings a possibility of another disaster.

HCA uses an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) concept to support their facilities and communities during a disaster.  Through 15 regional offices and the corporate headquarters and Nashville, Tennessee, teams are always at the ready to provide support.

The success of the local facilities, regional offices, and corporate headquarters is due to performing annual exercises.  Disaster exercises can be designed as a tabletop event, where key personnel discuss response of a simulated event, a drill, where a specific location performs a test (such as a drill testing response to a fire alarm), a functional exercise, which is used to validate command and control functions, or a full-scale exercise, which involves multiple agencies responding to an event with simulated patients and hazards.

Each year, each HCA hospital conducts a minimum of two exercises (or may respond to two actual disasters), one of which involves the movement of simulated patients.  The patients made to look as if they have real life injuries, and staff must perform triage and medical procedures, and may also have to perform decontamination of the exercise simulates a biological, chemical, or radiological attack.

To test the communication and interaction of the EOC’s, the corporate team holds a minimum of four exercises each year. Recently (June of 2014), HCA participated in the Central United States Earthquake Consortium Exercise.  HCA facilities from Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia joined other hospitals, businesses, and state and federal agencies in a simulated earthquake along the New Madrid fault.  The HCA facilities had to contend with structural damage, loss of utilities, loss of primary communications, and an influx of patients.  The lessons learned from this and other exercises are then reviewed, and response plans are modified to make sure that when a real disaster occurs, the HCA teams are ready to respond.