Mayo Clinic Researcher: “Personal Resiliency Paramount for Future Disasters”
ROCHESTER, Minn. — A Mayo Clinic researcher says individuals need to build disaster readiness and resiliency in order to better recover from the effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Those who prepare well for disasters are more likely to have a sense of spiritual and emotional well-being and be satisfied with their life. Those findings appear in the journal Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.
Health scientist and geologist Monica Gowan, Ph.D., says how well people are prepared for adversity through the presence of meaning and purpose in their lives can play a positive role in how well they manage the uncertainties of disaster risk and recover from devastating experiences to regain health and quality of life.
“Even prior to the 2010–2014 New Zealand earthquakes and 2011 Japan tsunami, we recognized a need to explore how well-being was related to evacuation preparedness for future earthquake and tsunami disasters. Our findings are now relevant to any disaster experience, whether it’s an earthquake or tsunami in the Pacific or a tornado in the American Midwest,” says Dr. Gowan. She says if someone consciously cares about his or her well-being and that of others, and is aware and engaged enough to act on that basis, they have a stronger chance of being better off. She and her colleagues say this is the first scientific study of personal resilience and evacuation readiness prior to large disasters.
How to be resilient
- Decide you care enough to act. Your sense of personal agency, your desire to make choices and act, will be one of your greatest health assets.
- Know your resources. What are your greatest strengths? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Socially? Spiritually? Identify what you can do well and what helps you be well, and tuck this information in your mental “resilience toolkit.”
- Optimize what you have. Creatively think about how, by combining two or more of your top resources or strengths, you can uncover new solutions to challenges.
- Imagine yourself acting. How might you respond when you’re in crisis? Make a plan for how you can keep growing your resources and how you can deploy them in emergencies.
- Know your evacuation needs. If you had to flee or be displaced from home, what would be most essential for you? All disasters are local — find out what your community recommends for an evacuation plan and go-kit. Then check your checklist and kit too.
- Just Do It. Act on your plans and communicate them to others.
- Let nature be natural. If the cause is natural, then nature is doing what nature does. Protect yourself and remember that everything is temporary.
“Along with the robust survey findings we obtained from our random sample of 695 adults, many people in the study shared anecdotes about why they were preparing for disaster,” says Dr. Gowan. “Profoundly personal reasons were a common theme, whether due to their own vulnerabilities and desire to survive, to concern for a loved one, being part of a community, or wanting to serve some other greater good or higher purpose. A number had survived a prior disaster, with experiences ranging from the Holocaust to 9/11, and nearly every type of natural disaster. They all seemed to have found meaningful ways to transcend their unthinkable experiences.”
The researchers say the study has far-reaching implications. Growing populations and global travel make everyone vulnerable to disaster, and so the need for resilience is universal.
Co-authors of the study include Ray Kirk, Ph.D., University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand; and Jeff Sloan, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic. The research was funded by the University of Canterbury International Doctoral Scholarship, University of Canterbury College of Education and School of Health Sciences; GNS Science/Massey University Joint Centre for Disaster Research; New Zealand Earthquake Commission; Education New Zealand; and Mayo Clinic.
Disaster responses like Boston’s take resources, training
Four Level 1 trauma centers lie within a mile of the Boston Marathon finish line. Thirty minutes after the Patriot’s Day bombings, all four were treating dozens of seriously injured people. Eventually, 26 hospitals cared for more than 200 patients wounded in the blast.
The response of Boston’s hospitals and emergency medical services has been hailed as the gold standard for handling a mass casualty incident (MCI). but most communities don’t have Boston’s financial and medical advantages or strong, decades-old regional partnerships. Is it realistic to expect towns with fewer resources to respond the same way?
Eric M Weller, program manager of Emergency Medical Services at South Central College in Mankato, Minn., says hospitals and communities can respond effectively and decisively in a crisis – but only as far as available resources allow.
“A disaster is when a situation or event outstrips or overwhelms the current resources,” he explains. “So the definition of an MCI is obviously different at a 25-bed critical access hospital whose daily census is three or five than it is at Saint Mary’s (one of Mayo Clinic’s hospitals in Rochester, Minn.), where there are 30 to 50 patients in the ED at any one time. A 25-bed hospital can treat, triage and transfer two critically injured patients, but five or six critical patients would likely overwhelm any disaster plan, ” he says.
Preparedness drills required
Boston had some luck on race day. Hospitals were on heightened alert because of the marathon, first responders and medical tents were at the scene, and several surgeons in nearby trauma centers had firsthand experience with blast wounds. But Weller stresses that luck can’t be factored into preparedness planning.
“In a small community hospital, if a serious event happens at 11 a.m. on a weekday there are more people around. but incidents typically happen nights, weekends, and holidays, when there is low staffing. So in disaster planning, you always have to account for the worst-case scenario. You learn to look ahead, to recognize early on when there is the potential to outstrip local resources and respond to that”, he explains. “You don’t want to be 30, 60, or 90 minutes into an incident and suddenly realize you’re overwhelmed.
Weller adds that the only way to learn the emergency capabilities of any facility – large or small – is through drills and exercises. The Joint Commission requires all hospitals to conduct two preparedness drills a year, one with community partners, such as Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Many big centers conduct far more; last year, Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston undertook 12 drills, one lasting five days.
Weller says the importance of such exercises can’t be overestimated.
“The key is to press the system to break, to think beyond normal circumstances. The Joint Commission says you have to stress the system on all levels. Some people think it’s just the ED that participates, but it’s a hospital wide response”, he says. “Everyone has a role in disaster response – maintenance, housekeeping, dietary workers. A cook may be asked to guard a door because there aren’t enough security people. Or the hospital may not even have a security staff. This is especially true in small community hospitals where people may already be performing five different jobs.” After a drill, an improvement plan is drawn up that lists both successes and opportunities for improvement. Challenging areas are then retested the next time around.
Plan for catastrophes
What hospitals prepare for is influenced, in part, by the day’s news. School shootings are a widely discussed topic, not just because they are increasingly common, but also because children in general present special challenges.
“They’re not just little adults; they have unique needs that non-pediatric centers may not be able to accommodate, including child-size equipment and drug dosages”, Weller notes. “Plus, dealing with a badly injured child is always especially stressful on providers. Most are used to dealing with adults on a day-to-day basis and may feel uncomfortable dealing with kids.”
Tornado preparedness is another critical issue, and the devastating tornadoes this season prompted a region-wide discussion.
“We brought in all the hospitals and talked about how we would set up medical resources in our own communities after a similar catastrophic incident”, Weller says.
Most experts agree that hospitals and health care systems are better prepared to handle emergencies now than they were 10 years ago. But cuts in funding may stall future progress and prevent hospitals from conducting rigorous preparedness training.
Weller says, “Emergency preparedness isn’t something you learn in school. The need to train and retrain providers on this topic is a continual process.”
*Please not that The Perfect Prepper is not affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, it’s researchers or the authors of the articles. The above article is in regards to research done by Mayo Clinic staff. For more information please visit history.mayoclinic.org, www.mayoclinic.org, and newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org.