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New tool helps hospitals evaluate disaster drills

Hospitals can now identify the most important strengths and weaknesses in their disaster response plans using a new tool from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Ensuring that hospitals are prepared to respond appropriately during any type of disaster situation—manmade or natural—is a priority for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Beginning in September, hospitals participating in the Hospital Preparedness Program, administered through HHS, will be required to provide executive summaries of the results of disaster drills they conduct. AHRQ's new Tool for Evaluating Core Elements of Hospital Disaster Drills can help hospitals meet this requirement.Hospital disaster response drills are real-time tests of a facility's readiness to respond to a sudden demand for services resulting from a community-wide disaster. Routine evaluation of these drills can help a hospital make sure it is ready to meet community needs and provide high-quality care during a disaster event.

The tool is a series of evidence-based modules that provide standardized checklists to document observations during a disaster drill. Using the observations, hospitals can identify areas for improvement, make appropriate changes and set benchmarks to track those changes over time. The individual modules assess the adequacy of response by different functional "zones" set up within a hospital during a disaster: command center, decontamination, triage, and treatment. A pre-drill module is also included, and a debrief module helps capture feedback from all participants, including observations that occur across multiple functional zones.

The new evidence-based tool is an abridged version of a more comprehensive evidence report developed by AHRQ's Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center in Baltimore. The new version singles out only the most critical elements that all hospitals should evaluate during disaster drills. AHRQ's Evidence-based Practice Centers are part of an important Federal effort to compare alternative treatments for significant health conditions and make the findings public.

AHRQ's role in national emergency preparedness efforts is to conduct and support research and to develop tools and resources that communities can use to improve public health preparedness. The Tool for Evaluating Core Elements of Hospital Disaster Drills is available on the AHRQ Web site at: Single, free copies are also available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

For more information about the Hospital Preparedness Program, visit

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