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Emergency Communication Strategies


Many agencies and individuals have a stake in the outcome of the emergency. A well-ordered communications plan can help everyone participate to the best of their abilities.

1.  How staff will be notified that emergency response procedures have been initiated:

Upon activation of the EOP, the Incident Commander, or designee, may communicate with HCWs in the following ways:

  • Overhead page (PBX)
  • Telephone and cellular phone
  • House wide email
  • Mass notification system (Everbridge/Xmatters)
  • Verbally through the chain of command
  • Runners

The specific communication method used will depend upon the scope and duration of the incident, the impact on communication methods, and incident management communication requirements. Redundant communication systems/methods may be required.

A code system is in effect that describes types of disasters, such as Code Red for Fire, Code Gray for Security assistance, and Code Triage for disaster. New hire and ongoing orientation programs teach or reorient healthcare workers to the types of codes and the response required for each code. When emergency response procedures have been initiated, healthcare workers will be notified by PBX that emergency response procedures have been activated as follows:

Code Triage (Internal or External)

All staff please return to your department

The Incident Commander or his/her designee has the authority to terminate emergency response procedures.  Upon termination of the event, the Hospital Incident Commander will instruct PBX or other venue to notify HCWs:

Code Triage (Internal or External) is now clear 

2. How the hospital will communicate information and instructions to staff and licensed independent practitioners:

Upon activation of the EOP, the HCC will establish mechanisms for initial and ongoing communication with HCWs. The mechanism(s) utilized will be dependent on the scope and duration of the emergency as well as its impact on communication systems/methods. A multi-modality approach may be necessary to facilitate effective communication.

Key HICS members will be notified upon activation of the EOP. These individuals should report to the briefing, which will provide information on the scope and nature of the emergency, its anticipated impact on the organization, and the initial level of hospital activation.

Off-Duty Employee Notification:

Following the briefing, each department will assess its needs and any additional HCWs required will be contacted to return to the hospital. Returning HCWs are to respond to the Labor Pool for verification of employment, identification, and deployment. Volunteers will be processed in accordance to the Volunteer Credentialing Policy.

HCWs not on duty at the time of the emergency may be notified (if necessary) through activation of department or unit call- back procedures. It is important to avoid overwhelming the hospital with excess HCWs and phone calls. During an extended incident, HCWs will be called in to relieve on-duty personnel. Depending on the event, childcare and pet care services may be offered on site or in close proximity to the hospital. If phone service is disrupted, the following should be considered:

  • Notify HCWs through public service announcements on local television and radio
  • Notify HCWs through announcements placed on the organization's website
  • Utilize mass communication systems such as Everbridge Mass Communication System programmed to send notification and updates via email.

Throughout the duration of the emergency, key response leaders should be appraised at least daily by the HCC as to the following:

  • The status of the organization
  • The status of the emergency
  • Anticipated needs and activities during the upcoming 24-hour period
  • Posting of information at the Labor Pool or other locations where HCWs congregate
  • Dissemination of information by email, phone, memorandum or other publications
  • Communication through department managers and supervisors.

Licensed Independent Practitioners:

Licensed Independent Practitioners who are within the facility premises will be notified as above. Licensed Independent Practitioners who are offsite will be notified by telephone, blast fax (if operating) The PIO may also make announcements for Licensed Independent Practitioners through radio and television media after messages are approved by the Incident Commander. 

3.  How the hospital will notify external authorities that emergency response measures have been initiated:

Upon activation of the EOP, the HCC will establish mechanisms for initial and ongoing communication with external authorities. The specific mechanism(s) utilized will be dependent on the scope and duration of the emergency as well as its impact on communication methods.. Standardized terminology and plain English communication standards will be followed for all communication with outside agencies.

Several local agencies may play a role in managing an emergency.  Some of the key contacts include law enforcement agencies, fire agencies, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross. Agencies are notified by the hospital Incident Commander or a designee (Liaison Officer) as soon as possible after an emergency response is initiated, followed by regular and ongoing communication during the incident or exercise scenario.

4.  How the hospital will communicate with external authorities during an emergency:

A representative from the organization should be appointed to act as an in-person Liaison if the City of Long Beach Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been established. This person would be responsible for facilitating timely communication between the respective Command Centers.  During large-scale events, a Joint Information Center (JIC) may be established in an attempt to communicate timely accurate information through a Joint Information System (JIS). This communication may be channeled through the hospital Public Information Officer (PIO), Liaison or other facility representative assigned to communicate with the JIC. St. Mary Medical Center is connected to the Los Angeles County Emergency Management System via the HEAR radio located in the Emergency Department, the REddinett system and the HAVBED system.

If the nature of the emergency is internal, then the HCC will notify the appropriate external authorities as soon as possible. These authorities should be provided with pertinent information including:

    1. The nature and scope of the emergency
    2. The potential or actual impact on the organization
    3. A summary of actions taken (or to be taken) by the organization in response to the emergency
    4. What assistance – if any – will be needed from the external authorities.

    5.   How the hospital will communicate with patients and their families during an emergency:

    HCWs will communicate with patients using standard verbal methods and call light response.   If the call light system is inoperable, more frequent rounds will be required to determine the needs of the patient.

    For patients whose family members are not at the hospital prior to an emergency, the PIO in conjunction with Social Services will contact family members as needed. If the hospital can no longer sustain operations and relocation of patients becomes necessary, the PIO will establish processes to communicate pertinent information to patients and their families – including when patients are relocated to an alternative care site. Consistent with laws and regulations surrounding confidentiality of patient information, families may be apprised of the following:

      1. Verification that the patient is at the organization
      2. The general condition of the patient
      3. If the patient is going to be moved to an alternate care site, then the name, address, and specific care area of that site, as well as the anticipated timeframe for relocation. 

      6.  How the hospital will communicate with the community or media during an emergency:

      The HCC will establish a protocol for providing timely and accurate information to the public during crisis or emergency situations. During an event, the PIO will be assigned to manage:

        1. Media and public inquiries;
        2. Emergency public information and warnings;
        3. Rumor monitoring and response;
        4. Social Media monitoring
        5. Clearing messages with appropriate authorities, and disseminating accurate and timely information related to the incident, particularly regarding information on public health, safety and protection, and patient care and management issues.

      All media and community inquiries will be managed through the PIO. The effective use of the media to convey information during and following an incident is critical. The information provided to the public must include direction on what actions should and should not be taken, along with appropriate details about the incident and the actions being taken by the hospital. The PIO will work closely with PIO’s at other community response agencies, or with a Joint Information Center (JIC) to minimize, so that any contradictory or confusing messages coming from different sources can be avoided.

      7.  How the hospital will communicate with suppliers of essential services, equipment, and supplies during an emergency:

      St. Mary Medical Center has developed a list of purveyors, including vendors, contractors, and consultants The list is updated as needed, or at a minimum annually, and is maintained by the Materials Management Department.  

      The Logistics Section Chief and Operations Section Chief shall work collaboratively to facilitate communication with vendors that may provide essential supplies, services, and equipment once emergency measures are initiated. 

      8.  How the hospital will communicate with other healthcare organizations in its contiguous geographic area:

      The HCC will use normal methods of communication, e.g., phones (landline and cellular), email and text messages to communicate with other healthcare organizations, providing these services have not been interrupted.   If communications have been interrupted, the HCC will communicate via redundant systems such as HAM (amateur radio) and SAT RAD phones located in the Disaster Resource Center. Monthly meetings are held in Long Beach with the Amateur radio organizations. St. Mary Medical Center encorporates HAM radios into drills. GETS (Governmental Emergency Telecommunications Service) card is stored in the DRC. 

      9.  How the hospital will communicate with other healthcare organizations in its contiguous geographic area regarding the essential elements of the respective command centers for emergency response:

      As appropriate, communicating the following information may be required between healthcare organizations:

      • Essential elements of the command structures and control centers for emergency response.
      • Names and roles of individual(s) in their command structures and the telephone number of their command center.
      • Resources and assets that could potentially be shared in an emergency response, such as beds, transportation, linen, fuel, personal protective wear, medical equipment and supplies.
      • If requested, and if in accordance with law and regulation, the names of patients and deceased individuals brought to the organization will be shared in order to facilitate re-unification

      10.  How the hospital will communicate with other healthcare organizations in its contiguous geographic area regarding the resources and assets that could be shared in an emergency response:

      To the extent possible, such information should be shared as part of planning efforts, or as soon as possible once the EOP has been initiated. The decision to transfer resources and assets will be made by the Incident Commander predicated by the disaster and current and potential impact.

      11.  How and under what circumstances the hospital will communicate that names of patients and the deceased with other healthcare organizations in its contiguous geographic area:

      Consistent with The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as local laws and regulations and surrounding confidentiality of patient information, St. Mary Medical Center will communicate the names of the patients and the deceased with other healthcare organizations in its contiguous geographic area through normal communication channels if operational, only with an individual designated to be the PIO.  If normal communications are not operating, the Liaison Officer, in coordination with the PIO, will transfer information to the County through backup communications equipment or HAM radio (including agencies having jurisdiction, such as the police and fire). 

      12. How and under what circumstances the hospital will communicate information about patients to third parties (such as other healthcare organizations, the state health department, police, and the FBI):

      The circumstances for communicating information about patients with community third parties will be any disaster event (of an internal or external nature) that affects the community health and safety within the hospital environment and as required by laws and regulations.

      The HCC may communicate pertinent patient-related information to third parties. Such parties may include:

      • The Long Beach Department of Health Services
      • Long Beach Fire Department
      • Los Angeles County EMS Agency
      • The Department of Homeland Security
      • Law enforcement agencies such as Long Beach Police or the FBI

      Consistent with The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as local laws and regulations and surrounding confidentiality of patient information, the PIO will establish a plan to communicate pertinent patient information to third parties – including when patients are relocated to an alternative care site. Every attempt will be made to remain consistent with law and regulation surrounding patient confidentiality. The plan to communicate patient information will include minimally the following: 

      13. How the hospital will communicate with identified alternative care sites:

      In the event the facility is deemed unsuitable for continued occupancy or cannot support adequate patient care, communication will be coordinated through a collaborative effort between the HCC, and Section Chiefs.  The management of patient materials, transfer of medications, medical records, medical equipment, as well as transportation arrangements and tracking patients to and from the alternative care site(s) is also a collaborative effort.  Communication with the Department of Health Services and healthcare facilities to find alternative care sites may be facilitated via telephone, radio, cell phones, or HAM radio.

      Depending on the nature, scope, and duration of the emergency, the HCC shall establish periodic communication with designated alternate care sites. The purpose of this communication is to:

        1. Communicate with alternate care sites as to the status of the organization, its operational capability, and the anticipated need for assistance.
        2. Determine the status of the alternate care site(s), their operational capability, and their ability to receive patients as necessary.
        3. The hospital establishes back up technologies for communication activities:
        • Verification that the patient is at the facility
        • The general condition of the patient
        • If the patient is going to be moved to an alternate care site, include the name, address, and specific care area of that site, as well as the anticipated timeframe for relocation

        St. Mary Medical Center has established several methods of internal and external communication.  It is the responsibility of the Incident Commander to confirm that multiple means of communication are utilized appropriately and when needed. Communication devices include:

        • Portable radios
        • Everbridge and Xmatters mass notification systems
        • Walkie Talkie Motorola system (house wide)
        • Runners
        • Satellite phones (one in DRC- future purchases for Facilities and Materials Management)
        • Cell phones
        • Reddi Net/HEAR radio in Emergency Department
        • HAM Radio in Disaster Resource Center
        • Email or Social Media blasts
        • Overhead paging

        Through various activities, the facility participates in advance preparation to support communications during an emergency.  These include:

        • Maintenance of communication equipment
        • Practice with alternate communications during drill exercises
        • Receiving communications 24/7 from Reddinett (LA County) and Nixel (LA County Sherriffs and Long Beach Police Department)