Crash Testing Your Hospital's Emergency Operations PlansWe have previously discussed the importance of evaluating your hospital’s Emergency Operations Plan. Through a series of exercises that gradually increase in complexity, strengths and weaknesses of the plan can be identified.

Full-Scale Exercises are the most elaborate and come the closest to replicating a real-life emergency. However, they can be costly and time intensive, as well as difficult to carry out while simultaneously managing normal patient care. For this reason, Functional Exercises are more likely to be used as a tool to test a hospital’s Emergency Operations Plan.


What is  a Functional Exercise?

As part of a Functional Exercise, a scenario is created that requires the activation of the Hospital Incident Command System. Just as if a real disaster had occurred, the key players will convene in the designated command center.  They will be required to make decisions and problem-solve quickly within a highly stressful environment.  Though the movement of personnel and resources is only simulated, it allows the Emergency Operations Plan to be executed in real time.


How is a Functional Exercise created?

Planning is a key element in developing a successful exercise. Before creating the hypothetical scenario, the planning committee must determine what elements of the Emergency Operations Plan are going to be evaluated. Looking at the plan as a whole is too large of a task, so a few specific and measurable objectives should be selected.

Next, a general narrative should be written outlining the scenario. From there, various circumstances and events should be developed that will be sequentially revealed to the participants. These events should be designed to prompt actions from the participants that are in line with the exercise objectives.

In addition to those who are taking part in the Functional Exercise, many people will be needed to help run the exercise and monitor the outcomes. Some individuals will direct the course of the exercise, managing the events and timeline. Others will evaluate the actions of the participants, assessing how they perform in relation to the objectives.


What is an example of a Functional Exercise?

A hospital could test how well the Emergency Operations Plan is carried out in the event of a natural disaster that results in the need to evacuate. From the hospital command center, the entire process would be simulated. Participants would make decisions regarding the movement of patients, while still providing appropriate care such as oxygen administration and suctioning. They would communicate with local and regional authorities, as well as neighboring hospitals to facilitate the transfer.


What can be learned from a Functional Exercise?

Many important elements can be assessed.  This includes:

  • Command center management
  • Communication adequacy
  • Availability and accessibility of additional workforce personnel and medical equipment
  • Understanding of roles and responsibilities during an emergency

To be most effective, Emergency Operations Plans must be routinely evaluated. Though the more complex exercises require significant planning and effort, they are a great way to “crash test” your hospital’s ability to continue to function in the midst of a disaster.