Disaster planning: Is your practice ‘ready for anything’?

One of the ways we get pet-owners thinking about how they can afford the care they want for their pets is by showing healthy, insured pets and pointing out that they and their owners are “ready for anything.”  But this morning I’m thinking not how many pet-owners are ready for anything, but how many practice-owners are.

Is your practice ready for anything? Unless you’ve engaged in some thoughtful disaster-planning and preparedness, the answer is “no.”

What got me thinking of this topic was the explosion at the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, NJ, last Friday morning.  Three people were injured, one seriously, when an MRI unit exploded during maintenance procedures. The practice is well-known in the region for its high level of care, which is why some of the 60-some animals there were in very fragile condition even before the accident, making moving them out of the facility a very careful endeavor indeed.  From this article on NJ.com:

AfterHospital owner Dr. Tony Palminteri told NBC New York his staff brought the animals to safety, but some were in critical condition from prior medical conditions. Those animals would be taken to other veterinary hospitals for treatment.

The workers were not employees of the hospital, but contractors from an unidentified outside company, according to Ehrenberg. Their names were not immediately released, pending notifications of their families.

Federal officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to assist in the ongoing probe, he added.

“The building will remained closed for an undetermined length of time,” the chief said.

The evacuation appears to have gone well, according to the hospital’s Facebook page:

We are very grateful today that all of the animals entrusted to our staff and hospital are safe , either at home with their owners or at other veterinary facilities who jumped to our aid when we needed help yesterday. […] All of our incredible staff members are also safe today , many of whom performed heroic acts in the face of disaster yesterday. All of the pets , clients and staff members evacuated the building in less than five minutes except for the staff members who stayed behind to assist the injured MRI workers.

The HOME & KIDS business graciously opened their doors to us and provided a huge area for all the pets and staff members to wait while owners were notified in addition to providing a huge office area for us to use as a command center. Tremendous thanks to the doctors and staff at Park Ridge Animal Hospital , the Ridgewood Animal Hospital , the Hohokus Animal Hospital and the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital. A huge thanks to the Paramus Police and Fire Departments, the Emergency Response Team , the animal control officers from TYCO and all other agencies and people who were incredibly helpful.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the MRI worker who is recovering in the ICU at Hackensack Medical Center.

From what it seems from the other side of the country, the team at OAH reacted to the disaster in just about as good a way as one could have hoped. As well, the veterinary community jumped in to help, along with other businesses and emergency first responders.

While we all hope we will respond appropriately in times of crisis, do we know for sure that our own practices are well-prepared?  In recently years with have seen every possible kind of natural disaster plus terrorist attacks and civil unrest. How about an attack with deadly intent on a member of your team by an angry client — or spouse? Anything can happen, and does happen, somewhere, it seems.

It doesn’t even have to be all that horrifying an incident to put you out of business — for a while or forever. At one seminar I went to a few years ago, the presenter noted that all it would take to put a practice out of commission was a single broken water pipe flooding the building.

If you don’t know what you’d do if something happened, here’s what you should do: Review this thorough collection of disaster planning resources pulled together by the AVMA. And then get moving on plans for you, your practice and all the pets and people who count on you.

(Image provided by local authorities.)