A Pediatrician’s Role in a Disaster – Office Preparedness Webinar
As a pediatrician, we have many responsibilities, even just in the work setting. Add a layer of stress to that, like a disaster that affects your practice, community, and your patients – then what do you do? Disasters are unpredictable. With a recent increase in disasters, both man-made and natural, which largely affect children, it’s not a matter of if but when they will strike. So where do we start?
Pediatrician’s Role in a Disaster Children make up 25% of the US population, but children are not little adults. They are different physically, developmentally, and emotionally. This presents unique considerations when it comes to planning for disasters. Pediatricians are experts when it comes to children and the majority of pediatric medical care is delivered in outpatient settings. This is why it is crucial for pediatricians to include disaster planning during counseling.
Pediatricians can not only help educate families and patients they see in their office regarding disaster preparedness but answer questions during or after a disaster, educate emergency and disaster response teams, and advocate for children to be appropriately served during times of disasters. Things that may seem obvious to pediatricians, like shelter, evacuation, family reunification, nutrition, and safety may not be the case for others who do not work with children on a day-to-day basis.
Community pediatricians can also help local hospitals and emergency departments within their community by advising on best practices to help ensure pediatric capabilities. The National Pediatric Readiness Project (NPRP) is a great example and offers free opportunities and resources.1
Pediatric Office Preparedness Some of you may be wondering what happens to our practice when a disaster strikes in our community? What are the effects on the physical office space and staff? Maybe there is already a plan in place in your office to help navigate in times such unfortunate events occur.
Pediatrician’s offices face unique and additional problems when disasters occur. To begin, think about preservation of vaccinations2, potential readjustment of services, and communication with families. This is why an all-hazards approach planning in practices is an important approach. The APP Preparedness Checklist for Pediatric Practices is great resource for reference3.
Existing connections with public health programs such as Vaccines for Children (VFC) program or partnering with local EMS for office emergencies can serve as great starting points for collaborations.
Preparation of an office disaster kit to ensure self-sufficiency for at least 72 hours4, educating staff on office disaster plans, encouraging staff on personal preparedness plans, considering mitigation of the office space, development of contingency plans, and conducting office drills are all important steps to ensure preparedness.
Patient and Family Preparedness Families consider pediatricians as one of the most trusted resources when it comes to disaster response and planning. This is why information management and knowing who your trusted resources are is very important. The CDC or your local/state department health alert notifications (HAN)5 can be helpful in
keeping up to date on disasters that may affect you and your community.
For Families Studies show that in the last 2 years, 39% of parents reported experiencing an emergency at their child’s childcare center or preschool. Yet an overwhelming number of families are unaware of their child’s school disaster plans nor do they have a family disaster plan. Helping families with disaster planning and providing information surrounding this process when providing anticipatory guidance can be helpful with this 4-step process.
Build a kit
Make a plan
Education around common disasters in your community can help with targeted planning as well. The AAP Family Readiness Kit is a great resource for families6.
For Patients Children cope better with disasters when they understand what is happening. For any age, begin by asking what they already know. For younger children, give concrete explanations of what is happening, how it will affect them, and share steps being taken to keep them safe. Older children may benefit from more information. However, limiting media coverage of a disaster or previewing it and watching it together can be effective.
After a disaster, children may show changes in their moods or behaviors, or may choose to hide their emotions. In some cases, they may also show post-traumatic reactions. Regardless of their reactions, it’s important to talk to them after a disaster and to let children have their own feelings and help them cope. There are many resources that can help children understand and cope with disasters7.
Preparedness of Children and Youth of Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) Unfortunately, not all emergency planners are familiar with the needs of children and especially CYSHCN. Help families prepare a disaster plan and kit8 with a special go bag for the child with special needs, including an Emergency Information Form (EIF)9. In the go bag, prepare extra medications, especially prescriptions that may be difficult to refill in times of a disaster. And consider any extra supplies, food, power sources that may be needed. For families of technology dependent patients, sharing information with EMS and special needs centers ahead of time can be helpful to determine capabilities and access.
Pediatrician Personal Preparedness
No one can focus on work if you feel uncertain about the safety of yourself or family. In any disaster, you yourself need to be prepared. Pediatricians are encouraged to undertake their own personal and family disaster preparedness and to encourage staff to do the same. This step is important to help perform one’s own professional responsibilities in times of a disaster.
Create a disaster kit and plan for your own family, including a list of contacts and destinations in case of an emergency. It’s also important to check in with yourself10, especially if you have been affected by disaster. AAP state chapters can be a valuable resource for pediatricians who are affected by such events.