Practice Management

Weathering this storm and the next


Preparing for the next disaster during the pandemic

This brings us back to the beginning of the disaster preparedness cycle and the need to plan for the next disaster. Current disaster preparedness plans among physician groups and hospitals are likely focused on an individual disaster scenario, but adjusting current disaster plans to account for the uncertain time frame of an event like the COVID-19 pandemic is critical. Several articles in the national news posed similar questions, although these publications focused mainly on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the governmental response to prepare for the next disaster when resources are already stretched.13-15

How do we adequately plan, maintain a dynamic response, and continue to efficiently move through the disaster staffing cycle during an event like the COVID-19 pandemic? Being aware of current vulnerabilities and addressing gaps at the department and hospital level are vital to disaster preparedness. For example, we reassessed disaster (ride-out/relief) teams and the minimum number of staff needed to maintain safe and quality care, and what in-house arrangements would be needed (food, supplies, sleeping arrangements) while having to maintain physical distance.

Newman et al. explain “in disaster planning, having as many physicians as possible on hand may seem like an advantage, but being overstaffed in tight quarters was almost as bad as being understaffed.”9 This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to have backup plans for faculty that are unable to serve ride-out duties from unexpected issues – such as availability, illnesses/quarantines, childcare/dependents. Also, it is important to be aware that some supply chains are already strained because of the pandemic and how this may play a role in the availability of certain supplies. Being aware and proactive about specific constraints allows for a better level of preparedness. Continued collaboration and communication with other services to provide care should be ongoing throughout the disaster preparedness cycle.


Providing and maintaining optimal and safe patient care should be the overarching goal throughout disaster preparedness. Being aware of group and institutional vulnerabilities, collaboration with hospital leadership, and remaining flexible as hospitalists are critical components for successful preparedness amid disasters. A dynamic and responsive disaster plan has been vital amid COVID-19, and for the next disasters we will certainly encounter.

Dr. Hadvani is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Uremovich is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Quinonez is associate professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Lopez is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Mothner is associate professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and is the pediatric hospital medicine medical director for the main campus.


1. Malilay J et al. The role of applied epidemiology methods in the disaster management cycle. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(11):2092-102. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302010.

2. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Developing and maintaining emergency operations plans. 2010 Nov.

3. Federal Emergency Management Agency. National preparedness system. 2020 Jul 31.

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency. National preparedness goal. 2011 Sep.

5. Environmental health in emergencies and disasters: A practical guide. World Health Organization, Geneva. 2002:9-24. Edited by B. Wisner and J. Adams.

6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Topic collection: Hazard vulnerability/risk assessment.

7. Hospital Association of Southern California. Hazard and vulnerability analysis.

8. Meier K et al. Pediatric hospital medicine management, staffing, and well-being in the face of COVID-19. J Hosp Med. 2020 May;15(5):308-10. doi: 10.12788/jhm.3435.

9. Newman B and Gallion C. Hurricane Harvey: Firsthand preparedness in graduate medical education. Acad Med. 2019 Sep;94(9):1267-69. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002696.

10. Brevard S et al. Analysis of disaster response plans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Lessons learned from a level I trauma center. J Trauma. 2008 Nov;65(5):1126-32. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e318188d6e5.

11. Cram P et al. All hands on deck learning to “un-specialize” in the COVID-19 pandemic. J Hosp Med. 2020 May;15(5):314-5. doi: 10.12788/jhm.3426.

12. Buerhaus P et al. Older clinicians and the surge in novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA. 2020 May 12;323(18):1777-8. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.4978.

13. VOX Media. Imagine Hurricane Katrina during a pandemic. The US needs to prepare for that – now. 2020 May 27.

14. The Hill. Democratic lawmakers ask how FEMA is planning to balance natural disasters, COVID-19 response. 2020 Apr 20.

15. The Atlantic. What happens if a ‘big one’ strikes during the pandemic? 2020 May 9.


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