How does OHSU prepare for disasters?

Written by Robert Hendrickson, M.D.

With a hurricane hitting the eastern U.S. and the news that several hospitals have power outages and have had to evacuate, it’s probably time to take a good look at how OHSU would do in a similar situation.

We may not get hurricanes in Portland, but we are certainly at risk for high-wind storms, ice storms/snow events and earthquakes that can cause massive damage to our infrastructure and energy supply.  Any of these events would be a major strain on “business as usual” at OHSU.

The good news, however, is that for more than a decade OHSU has had behind-the-scenes ongoing, intensive planning and training for these scenarios. Here are just a few of the actions that OHSU has taken to prepare:

  • A well-trained team of high-level decision makers is always on call to make rapid decisions in a disaster.
  • We’ve published a comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that describes all aspects of emergency operations.  Employees can view this plan electronically (log-in required).
  • We’ve completed extensive training for high-level decision makers in the hospital and university as well as emergency management training for all employees.
  • This year we are offering specific training for all licensed independent practicitioners (LIPs; doctors, nurse practioners, physician assistants, etc.) on their unique roles in disasters.
  • We exercised our hospital evacuation plan last year and will do so again this year.
  • Every year, we evaluate the most likely disasters to affect OHSU and perform exercises to test our response to those disasters. These include things like earthquake, loss of utilities, terrorist attack, and influenza or other infectious diseases.
  • We perform disaster exercises at least twice per year–and usually more than that.
  • We have regular monthly meetings of the emergency management committee and emergency preparedness advisory group, both of which perform ongoing improvement of our emergency management program.

What if you are a patient or visitor at OHSU when a disaster strikes? Your care team is there to provide you with instructions on how to keep you and your family member(s) safe during the disaster and how to continue the patient’s care after the disaster is over. Every clinical area has a team leader with additional training in disaster response.

In a disaster, our most precious commodity may be our employees and their willingness to return to work to help those in need.  It’s important for every employee to:

  • Determine your role in different disaster scenarios. If you don’t know, ask your supervisor or manager. It is always better to know your role before the disaster strikes.
  • Prepare your home and family for a disaster.  This will ensure that your family and home are safe and allow you to help our patients by returning to OHSU if needed. There is information about preparing your home and family on our intranet (log-in required).

If you are an employee and are interested in learning more, the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) and additional information about preparation for a disaster are posted at the emergency management website (log-in required).

I’ve only explained a tiny portion of what the emergency management program does every day.  But rest assured, there is a tremendous amount of preparation, mitigation and training that we do every year to ensure that OHSU will not only survive a disaster, but will be uniquely prepared to assist our community and all of Oregon should an event occur.


Robert Hendrickson, M.D., is the medical director of the OHSU Emergency Management Program. He is also an associate professor of  the department of Emergency Medicine and the associate medical director of the Oregon Poison Center.