Public Health Emergencies and Natural Disasters

Healthcare Volunteers in Health Emergencies and Natural Disasters

Provider Bridge was created during Covid as a resource for responding to public health emergencies. It’s free and sponsored by HRSA & HHS and powered by data from FSMB, NCCPA & ABMS and others to rapidly certify and mobilize Healthcare providers across the U.S.

•           Physicians can voluntarily create their login and sign up

•           They are verified and receive a PB passport

•           Entities can then search for certified providers during a healthcare emergency

This is a free service for physicians & PA’s – no partnerships, no contracts, no fees to any party.

The Alabama ReadyOp Volunteer Response System, a partnership between The Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services and ADPH, is Alabama’s online system for managing public health and medical disaster volunteer responders. This system supports personnel who may be utilized during disasters, all-hazard response efforts, and public health activities. Learn more and register at Alabama ReadyOp.

Disaster Preparedness

Courtesy of CivicPlus

MYTH: If there’s an emergency in our community, all I need to do is call 911 for immediate help.

FACT: A large-scale natural disaster will maximize local emergency responders and community emergency response team (CERT) resources. For example, if a winter storm knocks down a tree on your property, which cuts power to your home and damages your roof, you may be one of 15 homes in your area with a similar issue waiting for assistance. Your first line of defense in an emergency is to be prepared for any disaster and be ready to implement a home emergency response or evacuation plan.

MYTH: All I need to do is dial 911, and emergency responders will know my exact location.

FACT: This myth is one of the most prevalent misunderstandings around 911 (or another emergency number in your country) and first responders. Do your best to describe your exact location when speaking with the operator. Landlines are a bit easier for first responders to locate, but if you’re calling from a cell phone, the only discernible location marker will be the nearest cell phone tower. Even with landlines, however, responders may not be able to discern your exact location if you’re surrounded by floodwaters, felled trees, or without electricity.

MYTH: When a natural disaster happens, people tend to panic.

FACT: Despite what Hollywood and other dramatizations of the human experience may lead one to believe, most people remain calm in the face of extreme circumstances. Chalk it up to survival instincts or the amazing durability of humankind, but it’s been shown time and time again how clearly people think during a disaster. The University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center found after 50 years of “studying scores of disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes, one of the strongest findings is that people rarely lose control. When the ground shakes, sometimes dwellings crumble, fires rage, and people are crushed. Yet people do not run screaming through the streets in a wild attempt to escape the terror, even though they are undoubtedly feeling [extreme fear.] Earthquakes and tornadoes wreak havoc on entire communities. Yet people do not usually turn against their neighbors or suddenly forget personal ties and moral commitments. Instead, the more consistent pattern is that people bind together in the aftermath of disasters, working together to restore their physical environment and their culture to recognizable shapes.”

MYTH: Unburied bodies are a health hazard.

FACT: This myth is one of the more grime aspects of natural disasters, but still crucial to debunk. In the wake of extreme storms and flooding, lives can be lost. Even in more advanced stages of decomposition, human bodies pose little risk of significant health hazards. The only exception, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is in cases of “deaths from cholera or hemorrhagic fevers.” There are other situations where people handling the deceased can contract illness from bodily fluids or through respiratory droplets (it is widely debated in academic circles if this is how some of the bubonic plague was spread,) but in the majority of cases, it’s far more important to honor the deceased with burials appropriate to their religion, culture, and family wishes.

MYTH: People bolt in masses from a disaster scene.

FACT: Logically, it makes sense why this myth is so widely believed. If there is an immediate danger, why wouldn’t you flee? In contrast, researchers have observed something they dubbed convergence behavior, which “is the informal, spontaneous movement of people, messages, and supplies toward a major emergency incident area.” This particular study was conducted over 15 years (1998-2013) in Kenya, but can be seen occurring in other countries like the United States during the September 11th attacks in 2001. Interestingly, there are seven identified types of people who “converge”:

  • The Returnees, people “who were affected by the incident and decide to return to the scene for closure.”
  • The Anxious, people who “are concerned they may know someone in the incident and may not know the person’s status.”
  • The Helper, people “who are similar to first responders in that they go to the scene to help those requiring assistance.”
  • The Curious, people “who want to find out what has happened.”
  • The Exploiters, people “who are looking to make a profit from the incident.”
  • The Mourners, people “who converge to create memorials and mourn the dead.”
  • The Supporters, people “who are either individuals or groups who gather to encourage and express gratitude to emergency workers.”

Contrary to mass thinking and opinion, natural disasters are just one part of life facing your community. It’s crucial to stay informed and prepared for when the worst does occur. Humans usually adapt for the best when faced with the worst.

Disasters can overwhelm a medical practice. Damages can range from shattered windows, power outages for long periods of time, disrupted phone systems, structural damage and destroyed medical records.  Most Alabamians are accustomed to planning for fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. The COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 taught that pandemic disease is also a disaster that can cause overwhelming patient loads and debilitating staff shortages.

Preparing for disasters is crucial for as little interruption as possible to patients and critical care services. Disaster planning requires continuous planning, organizing, training, and sometimes rehearsing. An effective disaster plan will help keep your practice focused on delivering care during a disaster.

Plan Ahead

Before a disaster happens, you should have a plan in place with a customized check list to fit your medical practice needs. Some of those plans should include:

•           A detailed, written plan.

•           Instructions to set up an instant messaging system for staff to communicate with one another when a wireless network is not available.

•           Protocols to protect yourself, your staff, and your patients during times of pandemic infectious disease. 

•           Instructions for ensuring medical records are secure, including a plan for maintaining compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

•           Maintain the certificate of insurance for your medical malpractice coverage with you should you have to relocate your practice.

•           If home health care agencies are caring for your patients, ensure these agencies have plans in place as well.

•           Ensure you have a process in place for returning to practice after a disaster has occurred.

You should also create an inventory of all equipment if you do not have one, preferably with video, to make it easier for you and your insurance company when it comes to reimbursement of items destroyed or lost in disaster.


Once you have a disaster plan in place, it is important to have drills to test the disaster plan so that your staff and you know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.