On Health Care


July 24, 2006


Business continuity planning: Are you ready?

Planning for business continuity is a fairly new topic in San Diego. In places with "snow days," businesses have at least some idea what they will do when employees can't travel the roads to work, possibly for several days in a row.

Lucky for us, weather doesn't keep us from work, unless you count days that "Dr. Beach" calls for a last-minute appointment when the surf's up, or the mid-winter Santa Ana forces a "fresh air" day.

We learned the hard way during the October 2003 wildfires when San Diego's then-Mayor Dick Murphy urged non-essential employees to stay home because of public safety and air quality concerns. Schools and offices closed, but many retail establishments remained open and of course, doctor's offices, hospitals, clinics and medical labs kept their doors open to serve the public.

Hospitals take business continuity planning very seriously. They have detailed plans to continue to serve the community effectively and efficiently even if employees are unable to travel local roads to get to work or are impacted by illness, if vendors and suppliers can't make regular deliveries, or if local water and electricity is impacted. Plans are in place to serve the public whether the challenges are due to natural disaster, disease pandemic or human cause.

Communication is the essential backbone of any business continuity plan, and each business has to determine how different threats may create unique impacts. Wildfire is different from influenza epidemic, which is different from earthquake, but prompt and effective contact with stakeholders is vital to meeting your mission -- especially if that mission is caring for patients requiring emergency care and maintaining a high level of care for those already hospitalized.

As hospitals and medical providers prepare for business continuity, the questions are good for all of us:

  • How will employers communicate with employees in a crisis? What about vendors and customers (patients)?

  • How will employers support employees and their families so that employees can return to work?

  • What about cross-training certain functions to ensure that operations continue if a smaller team is available?

  • What are the core functions our business has to perform? What are the impacts of our critical functions and implications for stakeholders? What can be safely deferred until full operations are up and running?

  • Are we prepared for telecommuting and remote operations if necessary?

    San Diego's economy is made up of many smaller businesses that may not have deep resources to tap for "rainy day" planning purposes. In this case, the call to action is relatively easy -- take the first step of collecting emergency contact information and keep that information safe in a couple of different places that it can be accessed. Storing it only at the office will not be of much use if you can't get there.

    What you should store in the office, even at a small business, are enough basic supplies of nonperishable food and bottled water, plus first-aid supplies, to accommodate employees in the event they are stranded at work for a couple of days. Think in terms of categories -- what would be needed in case of earthquake or fire, for example and ensure that adequate supplies are stored at the workplace.

    The county of San Diego is planning workshops for continuity planning this fall, which will provide an excellent opportunity to for businesses to gain more information. Watch for notices about the free workshops, or contact the Hospital Association at (619) 544-0777 to request notification of dates and locations.

    The entire emergency medical system here, including first responders, emergency services personnel, hospitals and the county of San Diego, join together regularly for comprehensive disaster drills simulating a wide range of scenarios. And fortunately, San Diego has six trauma centers that are a model for the nation -- truly a benefit that few other communities across the country can rely upon.

    San Diegans can take comfort in knowing that our hospital system has aggressively and diligently planned for business continuity -- serving our community under circumstances that are part of the 21st century reality.

    Escoboza is president of the Healthcare Association of San Diego and Imperial counties, a nonprofit organization representing more than 40 hospitals, health systems and physician groups. Send comments to editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.


    July 24, 2006