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An emergency plan for your life


March 1, 2019

Editor’s note: In this guest column, Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, laboratory safety officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multihospital system in Virginia, and otherwise known as “Dan, the Lab Safety Man,” discusses the important issues that affect your job every day.

I recently read a written laboratory emergency management plan, and at the end of the document there was a short section called “Planning for Home and Family Safety.” The procedure mentioned making emergency plans with family and friends, including arrangements for any children, other family members, or pets. As a laboratory employee, making such plans needs to be done well in advance of any disaster situation. If you are responsible for laboratory safety, it is time to educate staff to begin that planning process.

In many hospitals and laboratories, lab employees are considered essential. That means that they must report to work in any disaster situation, including weather emergencies. Does that seem fair? Maybe not, but laboratory personnel play a vital healthcare role. The care provided by the laboratory does not and must not stop, especially in the face of a disaster. Most people expect their local emergency responders—even hospitals—to be functioning when an areawide crisis occurs. Local communities expect these services to continue as well, and if lab staff is not prepared to be a part of that team providing care, they may need to reconsider their career path.

Most hospitals or clinics do not provide childcare or pet care in the face of emergency events. There are many complications, legal and otherwise, that prevent hospitals from providing care for families and pets. It’s a logistical nightmare, and most sites do not have adequate space or staffing to provide such services. Thus, an emergency event can be difficult and emotionally draining for employees; they are expected to be at work, but they have loved ones or pets at home that need care as well. That is why making a plan with friends or family well in advance of such events is important. Have a plan for how you will manage that needed care in your household.

If a known disaster event is approaching—like a hurricane or snowstorm, for example—having preparations for employees and their loved ones already made will make it easier to get through the days ahead. Staff should talk to lab leadership about expectations and make personal arrangements as well. If employees suspect they will be at the workplace for several days, advise them to bring extra bedding, clothing, medications, and even items like books or games to keep them occupied during downtimes.

It can be difficult to find solutions to problems regarding family or pet care. During major weather events, there are local shelters that may house both children and pets (although an adult will need to be designated to be with your children). The solution might even be a friend or relative. Some emergency shelters are not equipped to handle pets, so be aware that many veterinarian offices offer pet sheltering during storms also. Nobody wants to leave loved ones behind in an emergency to go to work, but it could be much worse if no plan is in place to protect them. Ask employees to do themselves—and their families—a favor and talk about their disaster plans today.

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