October is near the end of the hurricane season in the southern and eastern portions of the United States. Efficient emergency preparedness planning is vital to ensure the safety and vitality of the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and dialysis Community. Part of this emergency preparedness is being able to communicate effectively during a disaster.

Read also: Lessons the dialysis community learned from Hurricane Katrina 

Imagine that you’re at work or at home during a storm; there is severe lightning, thunder, and heavy rain outside. Suddenly, the power goes out. When you check your phones, none of them are working. Your Internet service is also affected and cannot be used for communication. Whether you are a dialysis patient, professional, or stakeholder within the ESRD community, it is crucial that you reach out to your important emergency contacts. These important contacts can include your patients, staff, employer, dialysis provider, household members, family or friends.

The emergency communication plan for dialysis patients and professionals

An emergency communication plan establishes clear lines of communication that allow you to stay in touch with any of these important emergency contacts, even in the event of a communication disruption. These plans are essential as they can ensure the accurate and timely flow of critical information in an emergency.

The three basic elements of any effective emergency communication plan are preparedness, activation, and notification.

Preparedness measures consist of any pre-disaster activities that allow you to properly plan how you will communicate during an emergency; this includes identifying your important emergency contacts and establishing reliable means of communication. Activation involves putting your completed plan into action, allowing you to communicate effectively once an emergency has begun. Additionally, activation also involves notifying first responders and other stakeholders that may be involved in an emergency. Once first responders have been notified of the emergency incident, the last element of your emergency communication plan comes into play, which is notification. Notification involves reaching out to your important emergency contacts so that they are aware of your plans during an emergency.

Read also: Five easy steps to prepare dialysis patients for emergencies

Here are some key points you should consider for each step:

Preparedness

Identify alternate phone lines that can be used to make calls, if your primary phone cannot be used.

  • In an emergency, it might be easier to make a phone call out of your immediate area, so you should designate an out-of-town contact who can relay information to your emergency contacts.
  • Make sure cell phones are always charged and ready to be used.
  • Listen to your local news and emergency management officials via radio, TV, and social media to learn about the emergency. Follow all instructions from these officials.
  • Sign up for emergency alert services through your local emergency management agency. This can be done by visiting the website or calling your local emergency management office.
  • Identify your emergency contacts before an emergency occurs. To be ready for an emergency, make a list of important contacts. You may want to include:
  1. Patients
  2. Staff
  3. Family
  4. Friends
  5. Household members
  6. Local emergency services
  7. Alternate modes of transportation (e.g., car service, friend)
  8. Utility companies
  9. Your nephrologist
  10. Your dialysis facility
  11. Your ESRD Network
  12. KCER
  • Keep copies of your contact list in places where they will be accessible during an emergency. For instance, keep one at work, one on your cell phone, and one with the emergency supplies you will take with you if you need to evacuate.

Activation

  • If you are in need of immediate assistance during an emergency, call 911.
  • Activate your emergency plan once the emergency begins.

Notification             

  • Contact transportation services, if needed.
  • Plan where you will go and ensure that all of your pre-identified emergency contacts are aware of your emergency plans.

As a dialysis patient, professional, or stakeholder, consistent training and education that focuses on emergency communication can help to build overall ESRD community resiliency. An established communication plan will support the reliable development, implementation, and maintenance of sustainable emergency communication during a disaster.

The importance of communication during disaster for the dialysis community

Emergency communication is a key building block in the foundation of preparedness and response. In local and large-scale emergencies, lines of communication can break down quickly as emergencies escalate. Without clear lines of interaction between patients, professionals, and stakeholders within the ESRD community, the overall emergency response to a disaster can be negatively impacted. Everyone within the ESRD community should promote the development and sustainability of emergency communication.

Part of communication sustainability includes knowing how to contact organizations such as your local utility companies, emergency services, and emergency management agencies.

If you can, it is also very helpful to establish and fortify partnerships with additional stakeholders within the community, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Network covering your region; national kidney organizations; large, small, and independent dialysis organizations; state and federal emergency management agencies, and the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) Program. For more information on these stakeholder organizations:

CMS: https://www.medicare.gov/

KCER: http://kcercoalition.com/

Local ESRD Network: http://esrdncc.org/professionals/all-esrd-networks/

State emergency management agencies: http://www.fema.gov/emergency-management-agencies

Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.fema.gov/

National kidney organizations: http://kcercoalition.com/resources/links/

Stakeholders play an integral role in all four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. During each of these phases, partnerships and collaborations among stakeholders help to ensure the necessary allocation of resources, personnel, and expertise.

Communication technologies during a disaster

In order for lines of communication to be truly sustainable and resilient, it is important to have alternative technologies in place and usable in case disaster conditions cause any one mode to fail. This redundancy helps to ensure that you can reach your important emergency contacts in times of emergency. As part of this well-connected ESRD community, we can all more effectively respond to and recover from a disaster, making the ESRD community and its constituent parts more resilient. These redundant and resilient communication technologies equip community members with the necessary tools to promptly share information in times of crisis.

Fortunately for the ESRD community, the methods we use to communicate have significantly evolved over the years; the technology that we now have access to can help prepare the ESRD community for communication disruptions. Here is a list of various communication technologies and how they could assist you in an emergency:

Communication technologies and how they could assist you in an emergency

Communication technologies and how they could assist you in an emergency

Familiarizing yourself with these alternative means of communication can assist with effective communication during an emergency. In addition, it is best for you to include in your plan multiple technologies, in case your primary method of communication is disrupted.

Emergency communication planning plays an integral role in ensuring emergency preparedness for the entire ESRD community.

In the rapid onset of an emergency or disaster, you as a patient, professional, or stakeholder within the ESRD community, should be ready to implement backup methods of communication in order to stay connected with your important emergency contacts.

By following a collaborative emergency preparedness approach, your emergency communications planning will be worth the thought and care, and you will find it of great help in an emergency to keep you informed, and safe, while staying in touch with others in your circle.