In Disaster Preparedness, Adaptability Is Essential

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek

Good afternoon, ProviderNation.

As long term and post-acute care providers around the nation begin to review and digest the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) proposed rule to establish national emergency preparedness requirements for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating providers and suppliers (see story here), organizations are swinging into action to help guide providers in developing robust protocols to meet compliance and protect the fragile populations they serve.

An example of this type of resource can be seen in a short piece authored by my colleague from the Arizona Health Care Association, Katie Hannagan Toye, disaster ready project manager, entitled, “Disaster Planning 101: The Continuous Planning Process.”

Adaptability is a cornerstone of preparedness. Just as your incident commander will need to adapt to changing circumstances during a disaster, the same is true before a disaster. When planning for disasters, it is easy to get comfortable with the idea that after completing a written plan, the job is done. However, it is important to remember that our environment and our knowledge changes continually. Such changes may include the nature of threats, resource availability, new capabilities, new lessons learned, and even technological advances.

Fluctuations within the community planning environment may also greatly impact your level of preparedness. These changes are part of the continual planning process.

In order to maintain an effective level of readiness, it is important to constantly consider how organizational and environmental variations might influence your disaster planning initiatives.

This is why the disaster management community encourages facilities to review and update plans regularly. Written plans will only truly serve the user during disaster if they are current and they reflect the present state of the organization, the threat environment, and the community. If they are not current, they may actually hurt the response rather than help.

Exercises and drills can serve as tools for the reevaluation of the planning process and written products. When we practice and test capabilities we often identify weaknesses that were previously hidden or see opportunities for improvement.

A large part of planning is also not always in written form. Planning may include training and education opportunities or building relationships within the community.

Continually seeking opportunities for individual and organizational improvement related to readiness are great ways to keep concepts fresh, learn about changes and new possibilities, and ensure that the planning process is not simply a long forgotten written document.

There is no doubt that change is on the horizon pertaining to emergency preparedness requirements for long term care facilities regulated by CMS. Please take a close look at your center’s emergency management program and determine if you are utilizing a “continuous planning process.”

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


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Filed under Long term care, Post-acute care, Uncategorized

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