Hospital CIOs share their prep plans for Hurricane Sandy, other disasters

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Hurricane Irene left many hospital IT departments scrambling in the wake of power outages in August 2011, and Hurricane Sandy likely will have a similar impact on hospitals up and down the East Coast.

We asked several members of our new FierceHealthIT Advisory Board about how they prepare in the face of such natural disasters.

John Halamka (right), CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said his hospital has multiple data centers with diverse power feeds, including one from an independent power generating station that supplies all of the Harvard hospitals. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on Saturday in preparation for potential damage caused by the storm, according to the Boston Globe.

"We have 36 hours of fuel for our generators and the capacity to roll up a generator to any of our data center buildings," Halamka told FierceHealthIT.

Donna Staton (left), CIO of Fauquier Health System in Warrenton, Va., also said her hospital uses backup generators, and said that only "essential personnel" were required to physically report to work. The remainder of Fauquier's IT staff, she said, were permitted to take scheduled paid time off or work remotely.

While Oklahoma won't feel the physical effects of Sandy, Duncan (Okla.) Regional Hospital CIO Roger Neal (right) said that every spring and fall, tornados present similar challenges for his hospital. The FierceHealthIT adviser said that Duncan has "invested heavily in redundancy" for areas like its HIS server farm and its main routers.

"We are always planning and looking at how we serve our patients better during inclement weather, and the process is always being tweaked," Neal said. "I think the big key for us is to always keep emergency management in the forefront of what we do."

Stephen Stewart (left), CIO at Henry County Health Center in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, an area also prone to tornados, said that he and his team "invent scenarios" to test their emergency processes.

"We first set up a process, and tested it, that we can recover the electronic health record system in four hours at a remote site for data that is no more than six hours old," Stewart said. "Our thought is, even if we cannot treat patients, we have to have the data to provide information on transfers."

Dave Holland (right), CIO at Southern Illinois Health System in Carbondale, Ill., said that similar disaster planning helped his system get through an inland hurricane that impacted his region in May 2010.

"We lost power at all three of our hospitals across a 26 mile spread, and at our IT facility, for five days," Holland said. "Fortunately, our planning was a success and all of our major clinical systems stayed online."

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article
- check out our new Advisory Board

Related Articles:
Introducing the FierceHealthIT Advisory Board
Introducing the FierceHealthcare Advisory Board
HIEs should be part of state disaster planning
Power outages, coding issues for hospitals left in Irene's wake
Katrina lessons still flooding in