HAP Blog

Winter is Coming: Here’s How You Can Be Ready

Predicting Winter Weather is Hard; Your Emergency Preparations Don’t have to be

December 01, 2021

Winter is coming.

No, not just the ominous metaphor from “Game of Thrones”; literally, winter is coming for us.

To be precise, winter officially begins on Tuesday, December 21 at 10:59 a.m., Eastern Time, but we’re already thinking about its potential impact on hospitals and health care facilities. For some in the northeast, winter has already arrived, as we’ve heard reports from Pennsylvania and other states about their first signs of snow.

While AccuWeather correctly predicted a few chances for snow last month, we’ll have to wait to see if the predictions for above-average snow and cold come true this winter. After years in emergency management, I’ve learned the importance of forecasts and projections, but we also know we can’t rely on weather models to begin our preparations.

That means now is the time to think about how a blizzard, a snow squall, or a stretch of below-freezing days could impact your staff, your hospital, and your community.

Let’s talk about how you can get ready.

The Stakes this Winter

Don’t underestimate the power of winter weather.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen multiple weather-related mass casualty incidents (MCI) during recent winters. These MCIs can have a significant impact on hospital operations, especially in rural communities that may only have one community provider for emergency care.

Hospital emergency managers should stay alert for all severe weather possibilities. We often think of blizzards, but snow squalls have emerged as one biggest causes of MCIs. A snow squall is an intense, short-lived burst of heavy snowfall that leads to a quick reduction in visibility and is often accompanied by gusty winds. Think of it as a line of severe thunderstorms, except with snow instead of rain, lightning, and thunder.

Emergency managers should receive National Weather Service (NWS) alerts when a snow squall warning is issued. Many times the NWS will know a day or so in advance if snow squalls are possible. These alerts are helpful in our preparations for a possible increase in emergency department visits due to motor vehicle collisions, especially in our trauma centers.

These alerts also give us time to educate our communities about unsafe travel conditions, helping to prevent weather-related accidents on our roads and highways. Use your communications channels to remind residents to stay home during storms and snow squalls. This will keep them safe and the roads clear for emergency vehicles.

Personal Safety

There’s a lot that goes into keeping our communities safe during the winter, but we also need to think about our safety obligations to our staff and ourselves.

Talk with your staff about the potential travel dangers that come with winter weather. In large snowstorms, for example, it’s easy for vehicles to become stranded, creating a traffic standstill that can stretch for miles. If there’s a ten-car pileup during a storm, we know vehicles can be stranded for hours.

You never think this will happen to you or your staff, but you need to be ready in case it does. Here are a few important winter reminders to share with your team:   

  • Ensure your tires have proper tread on them and that the air pressure is adequate. If you are able, it would be best to install snow tires
  • Account for extra travel time. Driving in winter conditions most likely will take more time than usual, due to slower traffic along the way, snow plows and salt sprayers, or unplowed roads. Prepare for winter driving and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination
  • Create a winter vehicle preparedness kit, including emergency flares, flashlights, a hand crank or battery-powered radio, batteries, an ice scraper, water, warm blankets, and other essentials

We know hospitals are facing unique challenges in emergency preparedness during the pandemic, but we can’t overlook the importance of the precautions that have always been a staple of our emergency plans. During an emergency, you’ll be glad you took the time to consider all the variables that come with winter weather.

Simply put, winter is coming, and we need to be ready.

If you or your staff are interested in learning more about how to prepare for winter weather emergencies, contact HAP’s Emergency Management Team or HAPevolve for more information.  

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