Essential healthcare resources to help with bushfire disaster recovery
The recent devastating bushfires have impacted thousands of people, businesses and health organisations across Australia. The catastrophic conditions have led to loss of lives, properties, wildlife and livelihoods, and our thoughts are with all healthcare practices and the wider community who are grappling with these tragic events.
In this article, we take a look at some key measures health organisations and medical practices can take when it comes to bushfire disaster recovery, and share some valuable resources to help the rebuilding journey ahead.
1. The risk to health infrastructure
Bushfires impact individuals, families and communities and have devastating social, economic and environmental consequences. Already, the bushfires have compromised or completely disrupted key utilities, such as water and power supplies. Power cuts related to bushfires can also disrupt water treatment and supply plants and even increase the risk of water-borne diseases. Power cuts can also jeopardise proper functioning of health facilities, including pro cold chain.
The RACGP recommends the following emergency risk mitigation strategies in the event of disaster recovery:
- Relocating essential files and equipment to alternate locations, if possible.
- Arranging for heat-sensitive medicines to be stored appropriately in another location, e.g. local pharmacy, hospital or other practice with alternate power supply.
- Advising people reliant on CPAP or oxygen concentrators to evacuate early or source an alternative reliable power source.
2. Planning ahead for an emergency
Bushfires leave a wave of destruction in their wake. For health organisations, preparation and backup are the two more effective ways to minimise downtime and better continuity of care. Advance planning can make a considerable difference, so having a preventative program, data backup system and infrastructure monitoring can minimise the recovery groundwork and downtime.
Key preventative measures include:
- Training and assessing all health staff on effective disaster recovery.
- Enlist the help of a trusted IT vendor who can provide an added layer of support during a flood or other natural disaster. Ensure your IT provider is proactively protecting your critical systems.
- Conduct regular preventative maintenance on key emergency systems like generators, UPSs, cooling systems, fire detection and suppression systems.
- Test your plan for emergency preparedness, response and recovery through live exercises during normal operations.
- Establish a ‘go to’ team for support during a natural disaster. The go team can be used to relieve local teams, allowing them to focus on keeping their homes and families safe
3. Safe and secure location of your data
Data stored in servers located in bushfire-risk zones or near fault lines can curb data loss in the event of a natural disaster. As a solution, consider recovering and mobilising applications on virtualised IT environments.
For instance, Cloud practice management software stores all information on the Internet ‘the cloud,’ which is then backed up by premium security data centres. When clinical and practice management information is stored on ‘the cloud,’ it is not limited to a physical server, which means you can keep it safely away from a disaster-prone area.
Some additional tips include:
- Secure your data: Including clinical and practice management data, patient records and accounting.
- Secure your practice assets: Like the building, computers, and medical/clinical equipment.
- Develop an emergency communication plan: With copies that are easily accessible for your team.
4. Putting it all back together
Restoration and recovery takes time, and there are some key steps to consider when going through the long process of putting it all back together again:
- See what you can salvage: Look for anything can be salvaged and anything that can be repaired
- Look at what you need to replace: Office supplies, computers, phone lines, medical supplies and furniture – depending on the level of damage caused
- Consider relocation: If the bushfire did destroy your primary location, you will have to determine where you will rebuild or relocate – and how long it will take to get back up and running.
5. Resources to help with bushfire disaster recovery
Emergency events and natural disasters can impact healthcare continuity and the ability to provide essential medical services.
If your health organisation has been affected by the bushfire crisis, the following resources and factsheets can help.
- RACGP Bushfire emergency guide for GPs
- AAPM Bushfire crisis HELPLINE
- AAPM Bushfire crisis webinar
- The Australian Psychological Society
- NSW Rural Doctors Network
- Rural Workforce Agency Victoria
- PIP payments for those affected by bushfire
- Safework NSW Property Hazards following a Bushfire Factsheet
Finance and business resources:
- The Australian Tax Office has a dedicated page offering support for impacted areas with lodgement and payment deferral dates.
- Australian Banks have expressed they are ready to help customers impacted by bushfires. See this article from the Australian Banking Association.
- Beyond Blue support service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to support the mental health of people affected by the bushfires on 1300 22 4636.
- Beyond Blue also has free information resources online. Emotional responses after a disaster have information about normal responses to disasters, what’s beyond a normal response and some tips on dealing with the emotional impact of a disaster. More detailed information is available in the booklet: Looking after yourself and your family after a disaster.
- Assistance can also be provided from charities including Lifeline, Red Cross and Salvation Army.
- State support is also available for NSW, QLD, VIC, SA and TAS communities affected by the bushfires.
Make a donation
The response has been overwhelming from the community, but more support is needed. If you want to show your support by donating, below are links to the local State fire services:
- NSW Rural Fire Service
- QLD Fire and Rescue
- SA Country Fire Service
- VIC Country Fire Authority
- Tasmania Fire Service
- Western Australia
Help those affected
- The Salvation Army
- Australian Red Cross
- Gippsland Emergency Relief
- NSW Rural Fire Service – appeal for families of volunteer firefighters
Help the wildlife
Please continue to stay safe and alert, and please feel free to contact us if your practice or health technology infrastructure has been affected.
If your practice has been impacted by the ongoing bushfire crisis, please call us and speak to your client manager to discuss options to assist you in this difficult time.
1300 300 161