Are you making a list and checking it twice?

Pick up the dry cleaning…CHECK
Pack for your vacation… CHECK
Call the Plumber…CHECK
Pick up eggs and milk…CHECK
Edit your report for your boss…CHECK

On any given day, your “To-Do” list is full of items that keep your family happy and your employers satisfied.  To keep order in our lives we need to write these things down and check them off.  These lists guide our daily lives and help us plan our days.  As we look to the future, our list making and our planning efforts are heightened to an even grander scale…we plan our vacations, plan for retirement, plan weddings, and, of course, we plan how we’re going to spend all of that money when we “win” the lottery.

For obvious reasons, you have made it a priority to make these lists and focus on these tasks.  However, are there other important responsibilities that you are neglecting?  Do you have a plan for you and your family if a natural disaster strikes?  Clearly, it is important for all of us to confront the subject of planning what we would do in the event of a real emergency or a natural disaster, especially for the peace of mind knowing our families are safe and secure.  Don’t forget…unless you are in the midst of a crisis…it’s NEVER too late to plan.  Now is the time to take responsibility to make sure you protect your household.

But, what if the issue is beyond your household?  What if you are responsible for the integrity and security of your company’s lifeblood…your patients and their records?  When the proverbial “worst case scenario” happens, providers MUST be prepared to act with both care and speed.  Sure your primary focus should be on the well-being of your patients, but paper and electronic patient records are another important facet to a company’s operations.

Agencies need to be ready and prepared whatever the problem may be.  These problems could be minimal, such as a temporary loss of power or an interruption in Internet connections that are preventing the transmission of records.  On the other hand, the problem could be catastrophic with the potential of days or weeks of downtime or limited server access.

Are you ready for such an event?  Do you have a plan?  How long is your list?  FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explains it best by describing the process of planning as preparing “to become resilient.”  In a previous article, the importance of disaster recovery was discussed, including the step to assemble a team to build a strategy.  Gathering these resources can be a massive undertaking, but is that a reason to avoid it?  Like most things in life, avoiding the problem won’t make it go away.

Once you have your team in place and your brainstorming has begun, you should consider the contents of a plan that should start with a simple list and more importantly end with a map of critical decisions and important tasks that need to be considered prior to, during, and after a disaster.  If you have not yet started your list, you should at the very least begin with the basics.  A very general checklist might be a good first step.  For example, view this simple checklist from a HealthIT.gov article.  These items can be as general as:

  • If a constant source of electricity is critical to your continued operations, what alternatives do you have for back-up? 
  • Do you have information about all of your assets (including human resources and personal property) cataloged in a single place?
  • Are back-ups of your files being generated and are these back-ups accessible on or off site? 
  • Who will be responsible for taking control of IT operations in case of an emergency?  Does that person or team of people have the appropriate permissions/clearances to access information?

Beyond these basic questions, you should further analyze all of the components of your operations and refer to other resources on disaster planning out there as well.  These questions will need to reflect on what your daily functions might be and in the case of an emergency, if operations are curtailed or need to be performed at a new location, what accommodations will need to be made.  Again, the emergency need not be a hurricane or an earthquake.  A shutdown of computer operations as the result of connectivity issues or a computer virus can be equally debilitating for some organizations, so the planning really should be mindful of all of the key points to how you will handle any emergency.

So, are you making a list and checking it twice?  Check in later when we’ll review what’s next.  Once you have your list are you out of the woods?