Residents of nursing and assisted living homes are subject to many risks, including fires. Residents tend to be more physically and cognitively impaired, which puts them at a higher risk for death than the general population. Moreover, nursing and assisted living homes have long been recognized as a fire safety challenge. For example, on 23 January 2014, a devastating fire in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, Canada, at the Résidence du Havre nursing home left 32 people dead and 15 others injured.
Many of the victims used wheelchairs and walkers and could not quickly exit the building, nor could the one overnight employee assist all the residents before the arrival of emergency services. Local officials said rescuers were unable to carry out a complete evacuation because of the intensity of the fire, which officials suspected was caused by a cigarette. This is just one example of many incidents that could be lessened or avoided if nursing and assisted living homes were to adopt the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
Expanding the Reach of Incident Command
HICS and NIMS are both flexible systems and can be incorporated into any sector. HICS is an emergency management program that nursing and assisted living homes can employ to improve their preparedness and fulfill one of the NIMS readiness objectives. Based on the Incident Command System, HICS is a standardized, all-hazard incident management tool that enables nursing and assisted living homes to organize and manage resources, staff, and facilities to remain operational during an emergency and foster recovery.
NIMS is designed to provide a framework for interoperability and compatibility among members of the response community, which includes nursing and assisted living homes. The result is a flexible framework that facilitates working together at all levels during phases of an incident – regardless of its location, size, or complexity.
The Emergency Manager’s Role
Local emergency managers may be able to promote buy-in by providing valuable information explaining why HICS and NIMS benefit both the employees and the residents of nursing and assisted living homes. This open dialogue should clarify the steps within the process and relate this process to the staff’s current daily routines. When new ideas seem “big and scary,” the result is often failure to have buy-in from all stakeholders.
Success and sustainability can only be achieved when everyone at every level experiences the concepts and principles within the context of their everyday lives, especially when it comes to nursing and assisted living homes. Personnel at these homes may not initially recognize that they already understand and employ many of the principles and concepts, such as existing organizational charts. Subsequently, emergency management personnel can show them how the rest of the HICS and NIMS fit into their existing models and business practice.
Steven Maynard is an emergency management associate with the City of Fairfax, Virginia, Office of Emergency Management, where he creates, writes, and updates emergency planning documents and courses to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. He also volunteers his time as disaster response leader with American Red Cross, as a training coordinator with local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and as a volunteer emergency planner with local nursing and assisted living communities. He writes on emergency management, domestic preparedness, and healthcare planning. He holds a BS in public administration and masters in homeland security.