Don’t Forget The Less Obvious Threats

Szpytek Stan PHOTO for Column

Stan Szpytek, President, Fire and Life Safety

Good afternoon, ProviderNation.

In case you missed it, hurricane season officially began this past weekend, and it reminded me that there are numerous other hazards out there that providers often do not consider in their planning processes. In fact, many long term care providers fail to incorporate what’s known as Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) into their disaster preparedness and emergency management programs.

Specifically, it is one of my consistent findings that disaster planning is often completed with a focus on obvious threats and perils that are unique to a community or region. For example, facilities located in the Midwest have a strong focus on severe weather events, while providers in seismically active regions of the country focus on earthquakes.

Similarly, nursing homes and assisted living communities in coastal regions have a tendency to concentrate on hurricanes and tropical storms, while those in major metropolitan areas are focused on the threat of terrorism or other “man-made” perils. This type of “regional” focus can limit a facility’s perception of other threats and hazards that may exist within the facility itself or may be present in the community or region.

The HVA process is a way to assess all potential hazards, threats, and perils both within and outside of a health care facility. Utilizing tools and methodologies commonly required in hospitals, HVA should be initially conducted and reviewed on at least an annual basis to identify existing and new conditions that could adversely impact the operations of a long term care facility.

Proximity to potential terror targets, dams, ports, waterways, hazardous materials plants, schools, shopping malls, bank branches, pipelines, railroad crossings, airports, and a long list of other types of potential perils should be factored into a long term care facility’s disaster management program.

Effective HVA tools have been developed and are utilized to identify internal and external risks. Using a simple formula that includes the probability of occurrence, plus the impact that said occurrence will have on the facility in terms of potential injuries, deaths, and property damage, determines the unmitigated risk.

Subtracting levels of mitigation and preparedness determines the mitigated risk that a specific type of event or condition can have on a facility.

Additional HVA resources and tools that are available from the Arizona Health Care Association and the California Association of Health Facilities, Disaster Planning Guide-HVA Tools

While a great deal of disaster planning appears to be done arbitrarily or in accordance with “obvious” threats and perils, utilization of the HVA process gives long term care providers the ability to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters in a manner that is consistent with a facility’s most-likely events.

This process can be an asset in determining the amount of time and resources needed to adequately plan and mitigate probable events. Not incorporating HVA into the disaster management process can cause a facility to fail to identify and consider potential threats in a community like a lumberyard, fertilizer plant, propane filling station, stadium, military installation, or other occupancy type that at face-value may not seem like a direct threat to a long term care provider.

When an adverse event occurs at one of these proximal hazards, providers should have already identified potential impact and be prepared to respond and recover from events that may directly or indirectly affect their community.

Provider’s new Guest Blogger, Stan Szpytek, is president of Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and is the life safety/disaster planning consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and California Association of Health Facilities. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 35 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit or e-mail Szpytek at

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