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Hospital Disaster Risk Mitigation in 2016


Schin Kumar

START’s main focus might be researching terrorism, but what drew me to an internship here was its use of cross disciplinary research, which allows it to explore related fields. I was looking forward to expanding the use of this cross disciplinary approach as a member of the Risk Communication and Resilience (RCR) team under Holly Roberts. The Risk Communication team is the ideal example of START’s versatility when it comes to research…my tasking during the first few weeks ranged from researching the resilience of hospitals to understanding the mechanisms associated with communicating risks.  

Researching the resilience of hospitals was especially rewarding as I was able to experience first-hand the importance of cross-disciplinary research. The overall objective of my research was to assist with UMD’s Women in Engineering training camp by providing potential ways to mitigate risks for hospitals when confronted by a natural or man-made disaster. In a time where the environment at the forefront of the world’s consciousness, mitigating natural disasters is as relevant as ever. This, combined with advancements made in technology, puts us on an exciting path to developing effective strategies to alleviate the impact of natural disasters. The first challenge with this research project was the range of natural disasters I had to cover. Hospitals are ubiquitous, hence they are at risk to a plethora of disasters. For example hospitals in places like Japan and Hawaii have the unique challenge of designing buildings that are resilient to volcanoes; and researching this area was no easy task as the literature on this subject matter was scarce to say the least.  

After September 11, it became clear that hospitals were a crucial aspect of alleviating the damage during a large scale disaster.[1] Hospitals need to be protected from disasters, both natural and man-made. Not only are they vital to ensure victims of these disasters are protected and saved but also to ensure that preexisting patients are not harmed. Realizing the importance of hospital risk mitigation prompted several studies and a comprehensive National Incident Management System to be developed under George Bush’s presidency in 2003. This led to a more concentrated set of guidelines specifically aimed at hospital risk mitigation called the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS). These guidelines provide answers to specific questions that help hospitals prepare and respond to various types of disasters such as active shooters or earthquakes. While this was an incredibly valuable resource to further my research, it was frustrating knowing that disasters such as floods and volcanic eruptions weren’t covered by HICS. The lack of crisis management studies on volcanoes gave me an opportunity to use a cross-disciplinary approach to find risk mitigation strategies for volcanic eruptions. After consulting my fellow interns on the Risk Communication team, I was given the idea to look at the geological side of volcanoes. I used the geological databases I had access to and found a plethora of articles and journals detailing consequences of volcanic eruptions. I learned that lava and ash are not the most destructive or frequent consequences of volcanic eruptions; instead a form of landslides known as lahars are said to be the most destructive aspect of volcanic eruptions. While it was difficult for me to find specific risk mitigation strategies for volcanoes due to the lack of hospitals at risk, I was able to find sources to help synthesize a strategy to mitigate the effects of landslides- a phenomenon that several hospitals have dealt with in the past. 

The preliminary portion of my research focused on risk mitigation strategies that expanded on areas such as evacuation or equipment securing. Another important aspect of risk mitigation is the structural engineering side of ensuring hospital disaster resilience. This aspect was unique in terms of hospital resilience as it required a thorough understanding of both crisis management and engineering sciences. This was yet another area where cross-disciplinary research was crucial to proliferating effective hospital resilience. On one hand, crisis management demonstrated what you need to combat the effects of disasters such as earthquakes, on the other hand engineering sciences demonstrated the capability of today’s technology. In a lot of instances, the technology has not reached the level it needs to fulfill the requirements put out by crisis managers. This might be due to a lack of cost effectiveness or just a lack of sophistication in the technology developed. This is not to say that there haven’t been impressive strides in the synthesis of crisis management and engineering. Developments such as blast-proof glass, earthquake resilient hospitals in California and tornado proof windows have taken hospital risk mitigation to new heights in the last few years. While my use of cross disciplinary research has so far been restricted to hospital risk mitigation, I’m cognizant of this skill’s potential value in the future.  


[1]  The Effects Of 9/11 & Katrina On Hospital Preparedness. (2012). Retrieved July 10, 2016, from