In the Eye of the Storm, Will You Be Ready?

Crista Latham and Brette Peyton of MD Anderson and Lisa Worley of the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center shared their stories about weathering hurricanes Harvey and Irma with limited communications channels, human resources or hospital access for staff and patients.

Sylvester Cancer Center closed for five days during Irma but utilized every means of communication they could to get messages to patients, staff and the community.

Before the storm, staff used email blasts, social media, websites, external media outlets, an emergency notification network, cell phones and a rumor hotline to address questions and concerns of staff and patients.

Their suggestions before and during the storm:

  • Disperse your communicators in different locations in case one or more loses power
  • Start your messages early
  • Share your expectations and preparations
  • Convey compassion with your staff
  • Don’t forget your satellite facilities
  • Be consistent in the timing of your issue updates; consider robo-calls for patients
  • Prepare messaging for when normal operations will resume

After the storm:

  • Assess damage and determine if it’s safe for staff, if patients can access facilities. Urge leadership to give people time to determine when to resume operations
  • Celebrate the achievement of weathering the storm with staff and patients
  • Call out the heroes
  • Consider a tagline and use it – “Resilient and Renewed”

Lessons learned:

  • Prepare for the long haul
  • Create an after-event check-in system for staff
  • Create and promote access to different modes of communication for staff
  • Address any issues that arose during event immediately afterward
  • Have back-ups for your back-ups – nothing will work as expected

Texas experienced a 1,000-year storm with 52 inches of rain, 88 dead, 300,000 houses damaged or destroyed and $180 billion in damage costs. MD Anderson had just 65 percent of staff available and often depended on conference calls.

To prepare:

  • Always practice your emergency response plan and understand your roles
  • Have a team that monitors the conditions to keep public affairs folks updated
  • Pack a bag
  • Empower people at the local level
  • Employ teamwork and digital communications

Emergency communications:

  • Establish a blog for information for the ride-out team
  • Use a rink line, text messaging with staff
  • Create an emergency alert website
  • Keep the media in the loop
  • Use your social media; create a hashtag: MDAndersonStrong; encourage faculty participation
  • Share stories of teamwork: “Harvey Heroes”
  • Time-stamp each internal and external communication
  • Use patient portal on the web for patient updates
  • Have nurses send daily storm updates to inpatients (more personal than institutional messages)

Media relations experience:

  • Had requests on every angle: i.e. effect on pharmacy, research animals
  • Did not do a lot of interviews; focused on patient care and safety
  • Sent daily updates to all inquiries
  • Hosted a press call news conference with leadership
  • Summarized call results in a press release
  • Put CEO on national news programs

After the storm:

  • Communication is critical
  • Shared seeing-is-believing photos
  • Shared inspirational stories
  • Asked for feedback from employees and patients
  • Provided patients updates with new info
  • Created “caring fund” to support staff, on-site day care established, Lyft rides when needed, T-shirts, uninterrupted pay

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