Practice Makes Perfect

As we approach the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, it is important to remember just how devastating that event and others like it have been to our country.  While not the first nor the last disaster to strike our country, this event certainly reinforced the importance of emergency preparedness.  To date, some businesses and families are still suffering from the effects of this storm.  While the recovery efforts have slowed with people getting settled and back on their feet, it is important that families and businesses not lose sight of the critical need to prepare for the unexpected.

With that said, based on our previous articles, you’ve gone through the arduous task of assembling a team to develop a strategy for how to cope during and after a man-made or natural disaster (see this American Red Cross resource for even more helpful tips).  You and your team have written the script and are now more prepared than ever to meet any challenge head on with confidence.  That should be it, right?  Now you just wait and continue to hope for the best.

Well as any Broadway director will tell you, a sure path to failure is allowing your first rehearsal to occur on opening night.  When disaster strikes, will all of your actors remember their lines?  Will there be a wardrobe malfunction?  Surely, under immense pressure, problems will arise. But what’s the problem? Everything looked great on paper, right?  Sadly, in the midst of a crisis, the last thing you and your team want to show for all of the time and energy you have invested in planning is a series of teachable moments.  At that crisis point, you don’t want to learn the hard way where the holes in your plan exist.

Instead, armed with your disaster plan and your checklist of tasks and key players, every agency should proceed with the next key step in this evolving process and that is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  After all, practice makes perfect.  At least that’s what we’ve always told our children, right?  Clearly, being able to replicate an exact scenario with a flood or a similar situation could prove difficult, but the limitations resulting from such an event can be easily demonstrated.  For example, users can be informed that they will no longer be able to log into their computers to simulate what they would need to do as a result of a computer malfunction.  In cases where a separate system is maintained off-site, organizations can use this sort of practice run to confirm that the shift to the separate system allows for a clean transition.  You can start with a planned drill that can provoke users to think about how they would react under similar circumstances.  These drills can be opportunities, again, to see where holes in your plan exist, as well as to solicit vital feedback from those on the front lines that will need to execute the plan.  Keep in mind, some of the individuals who are pulled into these practice drills may not have been intricately involved in the planning process.  These are the dedicated men and women that you will need to have prepared and ready to perform under pressure, so it is important to also listen to and value their input.  Ultimately, regardless of all of the steps taken to illustrate what your operation will experience under duress, the primary goal should be to assess what works and what doesn’t.

Once you’ve practiced and identified where further changes can be made or have an extra measure of confidence in your readiness, you MUST not consider your job done.  In fact, check out this training video game on contingency planning from the Office of the National
Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) as yet another tool in your belt to assess the job you are doing.  Ultimately, ongoing review and periodic announced and unannounced drills will go a long way to ensuring that while you pray for the best you are still adequately prepared and equipped for that worst case scenario.  So, perhaps we should consider refining the famous saying and instead say…practice may not make your team “perfect” in this case, but practice will certainly make you better “prepared” and isn’t that important?