Hospitals exist to serve the needs of patients and their families, which can be acute during times of crisis or emergency. If someone enters a hospital experiencing cardiac arrest, a stroke or the effects of a car accident, doctors, nurses and administrators must provide both expert care and an overall sense of stability. Sometimes hospitals must deal with emergency scenarios on a widespread basis, such as with the COVID-19 pandemic. During these large-scale disruptions, it’s crucial for hospitals to have the resources and the leadership necessary to continue providing quality care, all while handling a major influx of patients.
That’s why many medical organizations employ hospital emergency preparedness administrators. These professionals prepare for possible incidents that could result in high patient volumes, disruptions to normal hospital operations and other obstacles to care.
Steps to Becoming a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator
Hospital emergency preparedness administrators develop comprehensive emergency plans and train employees to implement them. They may develop strategies to prevent emergencies and to mitigate their impact as well. They provide clarity and leadership as a crisis unfolds, ensuring that doctors and nurses can continue to do their jobs and that patients receive high standards of treatment. In some cases, administrators may also work with other hospital leaders to facilitate a speedy return to normal operations following a disaster or emergency.
Those who think they have the right disposition to provide a steady hand during an emergency should consider the next steps on this career path. Here we’ll explain how to become a hospital emergency preparedness administrator, including educational requirements, necessary experience, licensing and certification and core skills.
Those pursuing hospital emergency preparedness administrator roles will need a bachelor’s degree in a field such as emergency management, homeland security and protective services, public health or another related discipline. An advanced degree in a field such as safety, security and emergency management may not be required, but it can make applicants more competitive in the job market. Additionally, higher-level degrees provide an opportunity to hone core skills and can affect an applicant’s salary.
2. Training and Experience
The hospital emergency preparedness administrator role is a fairly high-level position, and significant work experience is usually required. In particular, candidates should consider working for a few years with an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic team, or as part of a hospital that relies on rapid response and steadiness under pressure.
Many health organizations require emergency preparedness administrators to hold national certifications; even if these certifications are not strictly required, they can give job candidates a competitive edge. There are two specific certifications to consider: Associate Emergency Manager (AEM) and Certified Emergency Manager (CEM). Both are available from the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).
AEM certification is for those who have not yet met the threshold for CEM status but want to pursue a certification to begin moving up the career ladder. Requirements include:
- 100 hours of emergency management training
- A comprehensive essay on emergency management skills and abilities
- Successfully passing a multiple-choice exam
The more advanced CEM designation is considered to be the pinnacle of achievement within the emergency management field. Naturally, the requirements are more strict:
- Professional experience in emergency management
- A four-year bachelor’s degree
- 100 hours in emergency management training
- Six separate contributions to the profession, such as authoring papers, speaking at public events, etc.
- A comprehensive essay focusing on emergency management skills and abilities
- Successfully passing a multiple-choice exam
Many states also offer their own emergency management certifications.
4. Core Skills
Through the pursuit of formal education, professional experience, and certification, emergency preparedness professionals will ultimately hone a number of core skills. Some of the most important include:
- Those in the field must communicate emergency strategies and plans to doctors, nurses and other administrators; ultimately, the goal is not only to inform but to gain trust and buy-in.
- Decision-making. In a crisis, hospital staff members need emergency preparedness administrators who can make the right decisions under extreme pressure.
- Critical thinking. One of the most important components of the job is to carefully and methodically evaluate the likeliest threats a hospital might face and to think through the best responses.
- Emergency preparedness administrators work closely with other administrators, physicians and nurse leaders to implement emergency preparedness strategies.
What Is a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator Salary?
Those considering work in hospital emergency management will naturally be interested in the salary range for the position. Here’s a guide to a typical hospital emergency preparedness administrator salary, as well as factors that can affect compensation.
Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator Salary
According to data from PayScale, the median annual salary of emergency preparedness administrators was around $69,000 as of July 2020. Some organizations may also offer bonuses, often as high as $3,000 annually.
Specific hospital emergency preparedness administrator salary ranges can vary depending on a number of factors. Some include:
- Education level. Those with advanced degrees will typically command higher salaries than those with bachelor’s degrees.
- Typically, those who have more professional experience in emergency management will earn higher salaries.
- Job location. Sometimes, geographic location can impact salary expectations; hospitals in large metropolitan areas often offer higher compensation than those in less populated areas.
The Major Types of Hospital Emergencies That Require Preparedness
One of a preparedness administrator’s core responsibilities is to be prepared for all types of hospital emergencies. Here we’ll consider three examples of historic events that prompted hospitals to quickly mobilize and strategically respond.
Hospitals must be prepared to respond to pandemics, as we are seeing in the unfolding situation with COVID-19. During pandemics, hospitals may experience surges in patient volume; there may also be a need for patients with infectious conditions to be quarantined within the hospital, ensuring the safety of other patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented hospitals with a number of specific challenges, including:
- Shortages in protective equipment and testing
- Obstacles to keeping staff members and patients safe, such as visitors seeking access to patients
- Difficulty in properly allocating hospital space for large patient volumes, including quarantining certain areas
- Managing routine and elective procedures to prioritize those who need emergency care
Those working in hospital emergency management should always be ready for potential, widespread outbreaks.
Natural disasters such as intense storms, flooding, wildfires and earthquakes can also give rise to hospital emergencies. For example, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina left hospitals in and around New Orleans with significant challenges; they faced pressure to provide emergency medical attention to those injured in the storm, while also having to cope with significant disruptions such as power outages, water outages and obstacles on major roads and highways.
In the wake of Katrina, many doctors and nurses were asked to help set up temporary shelters, first aid centers and triage areas, helping to accommodate patient needs without overburdening hospitals. This required considerable coordination from hospital emergency preparedness administrators.
Any large-scale act of terror or violence requires local medical organizations to offer a coordinated response and ensure that those who need emergency care can receive it.
In ways similar to Hurricane Katrina, the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, imposed a need for doctors, nurses and medical administrators to set up temporary shelters and clinics, ensuring proper patient triage even as hospitals were overcrowded and in many cases inaccessible. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, members of the medical community volunteered en masse to address the physical needs not only of survivors but also of firefighters and other first responders who became injured or ill in the line of service.
Finding the Appropriate Response
An important consideration for hospital emergency preparedness administrators is that different hospital emergencies require different responses. Those in this field must ensure preparedness plans and strategies that are flexible enough to account for many types of crisis. And they must be quick on their feet, ready to decide in the moment what plan should be implemented to keep patients and providers as safe as possible.
What Does a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Plan Look Like?
While different hospitals have different emergency preparedness needs, there are a few core elements that overlap in all plans. The elements of a hospital emergency preparedness plan will always have major implications for the entire organization, touching on everything from budgets to personnel management. The plans may also be necessary to ensure hospital accreditation.
Components of a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Plan
In order to maintain accreditation with the Joint Commission, the largest hospital accrediting organization in the United States, hospitals are expected to have emergency preparedness plans that encompass six core components:
- Communications. Hospitals must ensure they have both the means to communicate their emergency response plan as well as a chain of command that shows who initiates communications.
- Resources and assets. A hospital emergency preparedness plan needs to denote how the organization will safeguard and ration vital assets and resources.
- Safety and security. An emergency preparedness plan should outline steps and precautions that may be enacted to keep patients and personnel safe and hospital assets secured.
- Staff responsibilities. An emergency preparedness plan must offer a clear delineation of responsibility, outlining who will be performing necessary roles.
- Utilities. Natural disasters and acts of terror may result in disruptions to power, water and other utilities. Hospitals need fallback plans in place, ensuring they can continue with their normal operations to the best of their abilities.
- Clinical support activities. A hospital emergency preparedness plan should detail the activities that may be undertaken to support the work of clinicians, such as establishing emergency triage centers.
Additional Response Tools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a number of resources to hospitals to support their emergency preparedness efforts, such as:
- Hospital discussion guides, which outline key concepts related to emergency preparedness to be communicated to staff members
- Budget guides, showing some effective ways to budget hospital resources for emergency situations
- Interactive assessment tools, which help administrators evaluate risk levels specific to a hospital or community
- Assistance lines and triage hubs, which can be used in the event of an emergency or a pending crisis
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also provides a number of online tools, including information about current crises, such as COVID-19, and ways for hospitals to request emergency supplies.
Examining a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Checklist
There are a number of ways that hospitals can prepare themselves for emergency situations. One of the most common and effective tools is a hospital emergency preparedness checklist, which guides administrators in considering the key aspects of emergency response.
Example of a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Checklist
Here is an example of what such a checklist might look like.
- Designate a hospital command center, which can serve as a hub for all hospital emergency response activities.
- Designate replacements for all essential directors and leadership personnel, ensuring there are never gaps in the chain of command.
- Consult all applicable emergency preparedness documents provided by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and FEMA.
- Appoint a public relations representative who can facilitate communication with government agencies, health care professionals, the media and the community at large.
- Designate a space where press conferences can be held.
- Draft some basic messaging that can be used to communicate with the community and the press in the event of the most likely disasters.
- Ensure a clear mechanism for transmitting information between the emergency preparedness administrator, department heads and hospital staff.
- Ensure that primary and backup communication systems are reliable and accessible.
- Appoint a security team and task them with ensuring hospital-wide safety and security in the event of an emergency.
- Identify areas with potential security vulnerabilities, including entry and exit points as well as pharmaceutical stockpiles.
- Establish a dependable way of recognizing hospital personnel, patients and visitors.
- Establish a safe and clear hospital evacuation plan.
- Designate an experienced medical professional to coordinate all triage operations.
- Ensure safe, secure and covered areas for receiving patients into triage. Waiting areas should also be provided.
- Identify clear entry and exit points to the triage area.
- Establish triage protocols that help prioritize patients by urgency of need.
- Calculate the maximum capacity the hospital can handle, to help prepare for patient surge.
- Use planning tools to estimate the potential increase in demand for hospital services, in the event of likely emergencies.
- Designate areas for patient care overflow.
- Make a list of all hospital services, ranked in order of priority.
- List steps for maintaining the most essential services, even in the event of likely emergencies.
Leadership Through Critical Times
People depend on the health care system to provide consistent, reliable care when they need it most; for hospitals, this means ensuring operational efficiency even during the intense disruption. In pursuit of this goal, many hospitals employ professionals who can lead them through emergencies and crises.
The work of the hospital emergency preparedness administrator can be exciting, challenging, and highly rewarding. One way to learn more about this dynamic field is by enrolling in a formal degree program such as Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management. With classes such as Emergency Preparation and Response and Issues in Security Management, EKU can prepare you for a critical career in challenging times.
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American Hospital Association, “Statement of the American Hospital Association Before the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives”
California Department of Public Health, “WHO Hospital Emergency Response Checklist”
California Hospital Association, Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency Preparedness and Response
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Planning Resources by Setting: Hospitals and Healthcare Systems
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) COVID-19 Module
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Threats Change: Public Health Adapts
Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Learning More About the Emergency Management Professional”
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Supporting Patients & Healthcare Workers
HIPAA Journal, “Typical Roles Within a Hospital Emergency Management Team”
PayScale, Average Emergency Preparedness Manager Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Management Directors
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Summary of Job Description for Hospital Emergency Preparedness Coordinators
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, “Hospital Experiences Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Results of a National Pulse Survey March 23-27, 2020”