Are You (And Your Staff) Prepared For The Unthinkable?

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek

Good afternoon, ProviderNation.

Teaching disaster planning and emergency management concepts to long term care providers around the nation can be challenging when you consider that many Americans can never imagine themselves in the throes of disaster.

A large part of my curriculum focuses on the human reaction to crisis or disaster and barriers to response. Without a well-developed “culture” of preparedness, response, and recovery, providers may encounter less-than-successful outcomes during adverse events.

With the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy just past us, now is a good time to remember those who were lost as well as all who suffered the full impact of this historic disaster. It should not be forgotten that long term care providers were profoundly affected by Sandy, and many hard lessons were learned.

On the most basic level of developing a positive disaster planning and emergency management culture within a long term care facility, it is essential to establish protocols and training regimens that will address the practical elements of the management continuum as well as acknowledge the psychological barriers to effective response.

Those responsible for the development of programs, protocols, and procedures and the implementation of training, drills, and exercises can benefit from reading an eye-opening book by Amanda Ripley entitled, “The Unthinkable.”  In an excerpt from her website, she describes the details of this riveting book, which will pique the interest of anyone involved with disaster planning and emergency management: “Half of Americans have been affected by a disaster of some kind. In big disasters, regular people are the first and most important rescuers on the scene. But very few of us know what to expect until it is too late.”

The book combines the stories of survivors with research into how the brain works under extreme duress. “The Unthinkable” attempts to answer the following questions: Why do some people freeze in the middle of a fire? How can someone override this instinct? Why do our senses of sight and hearing change during a terrorist attack?

Ripley, an award-winning Time magazine writer, examines how people experience fear, the phenomenon of crowd dynamics work, and why instincts sometimes fail during disasters.

“The Unthinkable” was published in 15 countries, and a documentary based on the book, “Surviving Disaster,” aired on PBS last year. It was selected by Hudson Booksellers as one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2008.

Is this book a “must read?” In my opinion, absolutely. I am hoping that you will be inspired and motivated to breathe new life into your emergency management programs once you learn how a little bit of “situational awareness” can help people initiate an appropriate response to crisis or disaster.

Perhaps you can give this book as a gift to members of your team responsible for disaster management within your facility.

Go HERE to watch the documentary.

Stan Szpytek is the 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. FLS provides life safety and disaster planning consultative services to health care and senior living providers around the nation. For more information, visit or e-mail Szpytek at


Filed under Long term care, Post-acute care

2 responses to “Are You (And Your Staff) Prepared For The Unthinkable?

  1. No doubt, I will reblog this article, I admire your advocacy to educate people especially those who are in the long term care (LTC) industry. After superstorm Sandy hit America, it should be a necessity for ltc facilities to have a good natural disaster management plan since they accommodate residents who are seniors and most of them are frail, weak and some may even have chronic illness. It’s high time that nursing home and ALF reassess their emergency procedure during natural disaster so they all know how to proceed and protect the well being of the elderly during fortuitous events. I also wrote an article with the same topic: I hope everyone will have full awareness on the importance of being prepared 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on longtermhealth and commented:
    In the aftermath of the Superstorm Sandy, we all must be prepared and be able to reassess the emergency procedures of LTC facilities to make sure that we maintain the well being of its residents. This article is worth reading, its main purpose is to keep the safety of long term care recipients because they are the ones who are in great need of help during natural disasters due to their conditions..

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