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Hospital evacuation challenges during a wildfire

Posted: Nov. 14, 2019

Hospital leadership at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, California, shared their personal and professional experiences on hospital evacuation during the Tubbs Fire.

Their interview offers a first-hand look at the decision-making process behind an evacuation and can be used by hospital administrators and emergency planners to help inform their own emergency plans.

In the fall of 2017, Kaiser Permanente staff were informed by the incident commander that firefighters were making a last stand against the fast-moving wildfire. The leaders made the difficult decision to evacuate the facility.

Staff successfully evacuated 122 patients within three hours using a combination of ambulances, private vehicles and city buses. This included emergency department patients and labor/delivery.

Evacuation challenges

During the interview, staff said that the actual evacuation differed from their plans and training for evacuation. Some of the challenges cited were:

  • Patient tracking and the ability to print electronic medical records.
  • Supply tracking and go-packs for nonconventional transport.
  • Communications with staff.
  • Facility abandonment and the damage to the campus.
  • Smoke and heat damage to supplies.

Evacuation outcomes

All patients were transported to hospitals in the network without any medical issues. While over 200 hospital staff lost their homes, no one left to tend to personal matters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Kaiser Permanente network assisted the staff in the aftermath of the fire.

Kaiser Permanente staff were interviewed by the Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange, part of the Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Office (ASPR TRACIE).