Your Call Center’s Role in a Disaster

By Peter L DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorA few years ago, Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez recommended “Five Questions to Ask Your Hospital Before Disaster Strikes.”  Be it a natural disaster, a manmade catastrophe, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, or any other large-scale emergency, it is critical for all medical personnel to be trained and ready, including the call center.

Dr Ramirez’s five questions were:

1) What has been done to prepare?

2) Who is grading the drills?  It should be an independent evaluator.

3) Does the ER door lock?  Many ERs have easy access, so the ER and everyone in it can quickly be contaminated.

4) Who is being trained?  It is shortsighted to only train ER staff.

5) What decontamination facilities are available?  In a disaster, 80 percent of the victims arrive in something other than an ambulance, which means they show up potentially contaminated.

Now apply these thoughts to your call center – regardless if it is part of the hospital or not.

1) Be ready.  Have a plan for your call center and test the plan.  During an emergency, priorities change – or at least should change.  Making adjustments on the fly is never a wise idea.  Determine these changes ahead of time.

2) Seek an independent review.  Then implement and test the recommendations.

3) If the ER is locked, expect panicked calls.  Know what to tell callers and how to reassure them.

4) Include all call center agents in disaster training.  While they will not be offering in-person assistance, they could very well become the first line of defense – via the telephone.

5) Train call center on decontamination protocols.  They will need to know the options and processes so that they can knowledgeably inform callers.

Now that the basics are covered, ask what else your call center can do.  In addition to handling an influx of incoming calls, outbound notification calls can also be placed on behalf of other departments or organizations.  Several vendors offer automated emergency notification systems so that key personnel can be quickly informed.  Also, include a calling list for your agents; some of them may need to come in or be prepared to work from home or a remote location.

While no one wants a disaster to occur, if it does, your call center could be the hero – if you do some advanced planning.

 Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat magazine

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