Understand what types of emergencies are likely to affect your practice and team – both manmade and natural. These may range from a water main break to an earthquake to a chemical leak or disease outbreak. Some disasters are more common in certain parts of the country. Plan first for the situations that would most likely affect your area, then consider other possible emergency scenarios.
Explore all the risks your practice is exposed to: building damage, utility disruption, reduction or shutdown of business, personal injury, loss of medical records, and more. Download AVMA's Guide to writing a veterinary practice emergency/disaster plan for a more complete list of possible risks. Remember that an emergency can threaten more than your physical space. Be sure to consider potential risks to patients, team members, medical records, supplies, and equipment (lab equipment, X-ray machines, etc.).
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Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify and measure the potential impact of a loss or business interruption. For example, what happens if you lose internet or phone service, or if lab equipment isn't operable, or if clients can't get to your facility? By predicting the consequences of specific disruptions, you can devise better recovery strategies.
An analysis starts by recording the day-to-day activities your practice relies on. For each activity, identify the amount of time it would take for an interruption to impact the business. Then, decide what the operational and financial impacts would be. This will give you a clear picture of which activities are mission-critical to your practice, and the order and timeframe within which each must be recovered. This business impact analysis worksheet from ready.gov can help.
Once you identify the various risks to your practice, the next step is coming up with strategies to mitigate them. These might range from moving critical supplies out of areas that are vulnerable to flooding, to signing up for emergency alerts, upgrading security and fire protection systems, installing a backup generator system, adopting an IT backup plan, cross-training team members to ensure redundancy, and implementing telehealth services.
Know what emergency resources are available in your area and who to contact in order to access them. These can include state and local veterinary associations, animal control and response teams, and emergency shelters. Which local and state agencies have authority over animal and business issues that may affect your practice? Build relationships with them before the need for help arises.
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Create a business continuity plan
Think about your practice's day-to-day operations and what safeguards would allow you to keep treating patients, paying team members, and communicating with clients. Developing an emergency program should be a collaborative effort involving your whole team. It's valuable to get input from team members with varying roles and responsibilities because each one has expertise in some area of your operation. You'll also need the whole team to understand the importance of emergence planning and buy into your plan, so it's best to engage them from the outset. The AVMA has developed a training module for this, which is available for CE credit for any team member on AVMA Axon.
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Test, practice, revise
Share the emergency plan with your team, and encourage more input – especially from any team members who weren't involved in the initial process. Make sure everyone knows and understands his or her role. Emergency preparedness is an ongoing process, so your program should be reviewed, updated, and practiced regularly.