Office Disaster Planning: Are You Ready?

Office Disaster Planning: Are You Ready?

Having survived Irene and lots of rain on the East Coast, it has made me take a hard look at disaster planning for my office. This is timely as September is National Preparedness Month and the AAP has been working on getting stakeholders interested in pediatric preparedness. While I had a plan for where to move my vaccines if I lost office power, and made sure I had two good copies of my latest Office Practicum back-ups on external hard drives (one went home with me, one with my partner) was I really prepared? Not even close.

We were fortunate. We didn’t lose power or internet connectivity. However, some of my colleagues across the country lost both for prolonged periods. So when your electricity is down, exactly what do you lose? Your phone system, your computers, your ability to see in rooms where there is no window, your refrigerator (yikes the vaccines!!) While no one will expect you to deliver “care as usual” if you have no electricity (they probably can’t even call your office), what plan do you have in place? Should all patients have an emergency cell number they can call if needed (doesn’t require a land line)? Should you print out tomorrow’s schedule every night so if you lose power you can call patients on your cell? I don’t have all the answers, but the time to figure this out isn’t Monday morning when you walk in the office and have no lights!

So the lights are on, but if you lose your internet connection is anyone home? Office Practicum users are generally protected from being completely out of luck if the internet goes down, since most of us have a server in our office with back-ups allowing us to see our patient records . If you have multiple offices but use a central server, what’s your interim strategy for your satellites? How will you send claims, e-prescribe or import labs without the internet? What will your patients do who use your website to communicate with you? How will you send vaccine information to the immunization registry? Do you need a short term plan and a separate extended term plan?

I can tell you that one of my colleagues who practices in Brooklyn was without internet service for more than a week after Irene. Yes, not the middle of nowhere….we’re talking Brooklyn, NY. She was VERY glad she didn’t have a cloud-based EHR without access to her patient records. Many recommend that practices with a web-hosted EHR have redundant internet service providers in case one goes down, but let’s face it….those cables are right next to each other as they travel to your office. If one gets taken out by a flood or earthquake, there’s a big chance they both go down together.

No answers, lots of questions. Our office is working on our disaster planning. Is yours?

For more information:

A disaster preparedness plan for Pediatricians, by Scott Needle, MD, FAAP

CDC basics on what to do when the power goes out

Vaccine storage/power outages