As we approach the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, America is taking stock of how we, as a nation, have changed.  As our nation has focused on strengthening our national security and emergency preparedness, hospitals have played a special role in that effort.

Many media outlets have called the AHA to find out what has changed in hospitals.  Are hospitals better prepared for biological, chemical or nuclear terrorist attacks today?  What specifically have hospitals done to strengthen community safety?  As we approach September 11, your hospital may receive calls from the media, lawmakers, community leaders and concerned residents, asking what your organization has done to revise or update your disaster response plan to reflect the new threats we face.

In order to respond to these inquiries from the press and your community, you may find the following checklist and key messages about hospital readiness useful. 

Develop a brief report, outlining how you’ve enhanced your community’s ability to deal with biological, chemical
    or nuclear terrorism.  Focus on how you’ve upgraded your hospital’s disaster readiness plan and prepared your
    employees.  Be ready to detail how you’ve worked with your community partners such as the rescue squad, police,
    fire services and public health, to develop a coordinated community plan.

Share this information with your staff so they are prepared to talk with community members, lawmakers and others
    about how your hospital would deal with a mass casualty event.

Educate local officials in advance about the progress your hospital and other front line response organizations have
    made to better respond to the new threats.

Designate one, fully-informed spokesperson to respond to media and public inquiries.

Key Messages about Hospital Readiness
You may find this background information useful in talking with your community and the press.  Feel free to tailor these points to meet your specific situation.

  • All hospitals have plans in place to deal with disasters, whether man-made or natural.
  • Hospital disaster plans use an “all-hazards” framework that can be tailored to meet the specific demands of an incident.
    • Hospitals conduct at least two drills a year: one may focus on an internal disaster (such as a complete power failure); the second must focus on an external event (such as a plane crash or a hurricane).
  • Since September 11, hospitals have been working hard to upgrade existing readiness plans to meet the new terrorist threats.
    • In February 2002, the AHA surveyed member hospitals and found that the majority – two-thirds – already had developed strategies to include bioterrorism response in existing disaster plans.  The remaining one-third had plans to do so in the coming months.
    • 76 percent already have incorporated a chemical terrorism response, and 20 percent will do so in the next 6-12 months.
    • More than half already have incorporated a response to a nuclear incident, and 27 percent will do so in the next 6-12 months.
  • Hospitals have increased coordination with other community front-line response organizations such as police, fire, emergency medical units and public health officials.
  • Hospitals have expanded training and education for nurses, physicians and other caregivers, so they can better recognize and report symptoms of the most common biological and chemical agents.
  • Hospitals have developed procedures for reporting unusual trends of symptoms or diagnoses to public health authorities.
  • Our nation’s nurses, doctors and health care workers are devoted to meeting their community’s needs.  We prepare for the everyday emergencies and for the unexpected.

If you have questions, please call AHA at (800) 424-4301 or visit the AHA’s Web site at


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