Your career preparing hospitals for extreme emergencies

August 28, 2017 · 5 min read · By ASU Online
Even the emergency department of a hospital needs help preparing for emergencies of unusual scale or when the hospital itself is having a crisis. Learn more about careers as a hospital emergency preparedness administrator to discover if it's the right job for you. 

Emergency management and homeland security are ever-expanding fields crossing multiple professional disciplines and policy domains. They provide challenging career opportunities for those passionate about emergency services assistance, public security and public safety, humanitarian aid for crises and disasters, hazards risk reduction and community resilience promotion. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to help make an impact through public service.

Dealing with emergencies is part of a normal day for hospital workers, but even emergency departments may not always be ready to handle the most extreme scenarios. A natural disaster or a mass shooting can produce a sudden influx of patients needing immediate medical care. Thankfully, hospital emergency preparedness administrators can help medical professionals coordinate best-case responses in these situations.

This role is one of many career outcomes for graduates of the Online Master of Arts in emergency management and homeland security program at Arizona State University. This degree provides a unique intersection of healthcare and public safety advocacy. Calling on a number of skills, hospital emergency preparedness administrators help ensure medical facilities are equipped with the training, supplies and action plans needed to provide patients with timely service even in the most difficult circumstances.


Redefining emergency

Hospitals may be part of the emergency response infrastructure communities depend on, but that does not make them invulnerable to disasters of their own. In fact, hospitals can be especially prone to a variety of crises. Mass casualty events can very quickly overwhelm the normal capacity of an emergency department, both in terms of physical resources like beds or blood supply as well as clinical staff.

Even when there is not an unusually high number of casualties, the public response to news of a disease outbreak or a natural disaster can send people to hospitals in droves - potentially crippling triage and preventing staff from seeing the patients who truly need care. Despite training to work in the emergency department, situations like these can test the limits of clinical professionals and require a different kind of coordinated response compared to day-to-day operations.

This is why hospitals are increasingly looking to contract or retain preparedness administrators to examine their resources, management and training more closely in order to prepare for extreme emergencies.


Coordinating frontline logistics

Managing the staff and supplies of a hospital during a crisis situation is a major logistical challenge. Not only must incoming patients be taken care of, but the safety of other patients and professionals must also be ensured. Should the hospital be targeted in an attack or otherwise become the site of a disaster, it may become necessary to evacuate the facility entirely while also avoiding the interruption of medical care.

Because of liability risks in a hospital, medical facilities are generally required to have emergency operations plans. These take into account all of the people affected as well as the resources and operations staff needed to properly administer care. Developing a comprehensive, actionable emergency operations plan requires a great deal of creativity as hospital emergency preparedness administrators must be able to imagine a variety of scenarios as well as come up with a response that addresses each critical area.

Adding a further wrinkle is the fact that many communities do not automatically alert hospitals of emergencies or include them in the chain of communication as part of the response. This means that facilities can actually be caught off guard by the sudden arrival of patients and have to very quickly go from normal operations to the relevant emergency operations plan with little or no warning.


Defending hospitals against digital threats

Not all emergencies take shape as physical events. Modern hospitals, like many organizations, rely heavily on digital infrastructure for normal operations and the management of important information. This makes them especially vulnerable targets for cyber-attacks. Hundreds of individual clinics and hospital chains have been targeted in recent years, with cyber criminals extorting tens of millions of dollars.

While having valuable data held hostage can certainly be costly and damaging for other organizations, in a hospital it could be a matter of life and death. If doctors can’t access a patient’s medical records, they may not realize that someone has a latex allergy, for example - making even a routine physical exam deadly. With patients going in and out of surgery, recovering in an intensive care unit or otherwise depending on a constant rotation of staff to know what needs to be done and to whom, a simple disruption of information can quickly escalate.

Hospital emergency preparedness administrators, therefore, need to address not just extreme situations, but also the uniquely time-sensitive hazards of a cyber-attack. Even as the healthcare industry goes digital, it must have some contingency for if these systems fail while critical information and communications still need to take place. Preparing for this kind of emergency is beyond having a resilient IT department or robust anti-virus software. All staff must be able to depend on having a backup in place so they can continue their jobs until the cyber threat can be eliminated.


Planning for the worst, working with the best

Given the need for a rapid response even in extremely traumatic and stressful circumstances, those with a military or law enforcement background are often strong candidates for hospital emergency preparedness administrator roles. Likewise, individuals who have worked in the intelligence community may possess the attention to detail and creative problem solving this kind of planning requires. Experience with management and strategic planning can also be of value.

Median salaries for hospital emergency preparedness administrators are nearly $70,000, with growth potential expected in coming years as more organizations prioritize emergency preparedness. Regardless of size or location, all hospitals have a need for emergency administrators, which means there is also plenty of opportunities for contractors and consultants to help meet the demand.


Learn more about emergency management

With digital threats adding complexity to a world already painfully aware of terrorism and the risk of natural disaster, there is always a new contingency or response that needs to be developed in the field of hospital preparedness planning - making this a challenging yet rewarding career path for those already in the medical industry or professionals looking to get their start in the field.

Want to know more about this line of work? Interested in other related career opportunities? Learn more about developing emergency administration qualifications by exploring the online emergency management and homeland security master’s program at Arizona State University, an advanced degree focused on specialized skills for impacting the future of public safety.


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