Ask Us Anything About… Emergency Preparedness

A large first aid kit with a cross on the front sits on a counter. An N-95 mask is laying in front of it.

An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment. But people are often not prepared for these emergencies when they occur.

October 1, 2020Penn State Health News

Russ Knapp, supervisor of fire safety at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, answers questions and gives families some helpful tips on how to prepare for emergencies before they happen.

View full transcript of video


Scott Gilbert – From Penn State Health, this is Ask Us Anything About Emergency Preparedness. I’m Scott Gilbert. An emergency can strike at any time, which is why it’s important to have a plan, to ensure that you and your family can respond quickly and effectively. In honor of National Preparedness Month, we’re here today talking about the key components of such a plan with Russ Knapp. He’s a fire safety supervisor at Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. We’ll also learn a little bit about what Emergency Preparedness means at the region’s largest academic health center. So, Russ, thanks a lot for your time this afternoon, good to have you with us. So, in your role at the Hershey Medical Center, what does that job entail? Just to give the folks an idea of what it is you do each day?

Russ Knapp –  Okay, well we literally check, inspect our buildings, and then train our staff when it comes to how would we respond when certain things happen? Like I said, my job is fire safety, so when we talk about where we would evacuate to, what needs do we have to have to take care of our patients, where would we take our patients, if we had to leave our normal floors to what floors that we–to different floors and making sure that everybody understands to stay calm when it happens, because we don’t want to show fear that would then make our patients and visitors think that we aren’t really prepared to handle such events. And we do a lot of working with different departments on–because everybody, our needs are different for all the departments. So how do we work with the different departments? And how do we make our areas safe so that we can allow our patients and visitors to feel welcome and at home when they are in our facility?

Scott Gilbert – Now, very important stuff, and the great thing is, so much of your skillset and knowledge set really translates to what people need to do at home, too, which is where I want to kind of shift now, and you know, before we get into any specific types of emergencies and scenarios, are there measures that just in general that you recommend that people and their families take that span many different kinds of emergencies, especially those, you know, unexpected things that could come up?

Russ Knapp –  Yeah, so some of the things that I would recommend is, like some early notifications. Like, look in your community to see if your community has an emergency notification system that you can sign up to, so that if something happens within your local community, that you can get advanced notice for, and then look to see if they have different plans, that they may also have like if you had to evacuate your area, is there designated spots, or different directions that they would want you to take? And then also maybe go looking at how could you prepare for your home? Like if you would lose your utilities, you know, electricity. You know, what do you have that you could making sure you have battery backup, your radios, flashlights, and that kind of stuff, so that you can keep well-informed during these kinds of events.

Scott Gilbert – Yeah, and you mentioned fires, and that’s something I’d like to delve a little deeper in, because that’s something that, you know, especially families with children should have a plan to make sure that they’re ready at home to respond, if that unthinkable type of event happened, so what are some tips for people, especially, what like, you reference a meeting place outside the home. What are some other important things for people to remember for that particular type of emergency?

Russ Knapp –  Well, if you develop a plan and then you need to practice it, it’s amazing, the kids are usually the ones pushing the parents more to practice some of these plans, because when they have fire prevention in the school, they’ll be told to go home and try to urge the parents to do that, and then like pick a meeting point that is outside, and then refresh that with the children and the adults, and then also remember that once you are out, it’s important to stay out. A lot of times, I mean, a real emergency happens when somebody then realizes they forgot something and try to go back in. We’d sooner–you know, we can’t replace a life, but we can replace property. So stay out. Get your family together and then notify the fire department when they come in, hey, we are all accounted for. Because that makes the job a lot easier then.

Scott Gilbert – This is Ask Us Anything About Emergency Preparedness, from Penn State Health, I’m Scott Gilbert. And we welcome your questions for Russ Knapp. He is a Fire Safety Supervisor at The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. But of course, he’s very well-versed in a wide range of emergency preparedness topics, so if you have questions, concerns, comments, feel free to add those to the comments section of this Facebook post, and we’ll pose those to Russ, either live or even after the fact, if you’re watching this video on playback. You know, many different types of emergencies here, that we’re talking about. And I know we can talk about emergency preparedness in the abstract, and it sounds like we’ll just be ready for stuff. But what are some of the most common scenarios, and then we talked about fires, but especially weather-related or otherwise. What are some of the scenarios that you think is most important for people here in Central Pennsylvania to be ready for?

Russ Knapp –  Well, in Central Pennsylvania, weather seems to be one of our biggest ones, because we have the ice, the snow, the flooding, you know, we have had that happen here, there a couple of years ago. So that’s the stuff that reminds us that, and then hurricanes, so a lot of the big stuff is weather related. But we can also have some–you know we never thought we’d have a transportation incident that happened, you know, back in 2006. So you never know when something happens, but if you have a basic design, you can really change the flows a little bit, so that you can get through any type of emergency by just having some of the general basic stuff down together. And like one of the key things is making sure you have good communication and maybe a fall-back plan. Like, is, if you and your family got separated, do you have a contact person that everyone can contact, then, instead of trying to get hold of each other, so that they can keep the communication alive within your groups.

Scott Gilbert – Yeah, so back-up plans, just in case, maybe cell towers are compromised, or something, just making sure you have back-up plans for your back-up plans, right?

Russ Knapp –  Yes. And then you know, maybe making sure that you make, especially, you know, in our business, we’re in the healthcare business. Making sure you might have a small stash of medications that are needed for you and your family and a Go Bag, that is readily available, so that you can take it, and maybe a couple of bottles of water, so that if you’re away from your house, or you can’t go back to your house, you still have the ability to take care of yourself, and your family members. And we can’t forget our pets, too you know, making sure that we have an ability to take care of the pets, because we learned through Katrina that there were a lot of people that their pets were their family, so a lot of people didn’t want to leave their homes because we weren’t prepared to take care of pets at that time.

Scott Gilbert – And so a really great point. Russ Knapp is Fire Safety Supervisor at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. We welcome your questions and comments for him, just add those to the comment field below this Facebook post here. You know, when we talk about weather related situations, and being ready and some of the ways you refer to, and even other situations, you are kind of hinting toward emergency kits. And I know a lot of organizations recommend that people put these together. First of all, where should I have one? Should I have one at home? In my vehicle? At work? Maybe all three places?

Russ Knapp –  Well, I kind of planned, like I would suggest having the ability to have some of this stuff at all three locations. Especially in your car, like in the winter time, you might want to put blankets and shovels in, in case you became stranded, so that you could at least maybe dig yourself out, if you just slid off the road, have a blanket to keep warm, the water may freeze, but yeah, at least you have some resources there that you would have, so keeping that flashlight in your car, and in your home kit, you might want to look at your medications, what you would need, some valuable, how you would, with your documentations, like your checking account numbers, and then some of the places really the big thing came with some of the storms is having cash. Because we might not be able to use your credit card at the time, so putting some cash in a spot that you could grab to take with you is a situation, and then also like contacts, like some of your emergency contacts, like for your insurance carriers, your healthcare, cards, having that readily available, because you never know, you know, even when you’re in an emergency, you never know when the next emergency might come up that you need to have those resources with you.

Scott Gilbert – So there are some good basic items to put in that emergency kit, and you know, I think on one hand, though, it also seems like it could be overwhelming to try to think of everything that you would need for any situation, but I guess the important thing is, it sounds like you’re saying is, start somewhere. Get the basics together, right?

Russ Knapp – Right. And then if you keep it electronically, too, that you could maybe once you do get out, then you could look into, go back and hook up with somebody else, maybe and then you can get into your files electronically to retrieve that. Scan the information in to keep files that are readily accessible for you, will help you also. You don’t maybe need to have all the paper values, but do you have a flash drive that you can have with you, that would have some of that resource with you also?

Scott Gilbert – Yeah, great point, you know, there are some weather related situations and even others that could result in log-term power outages, and you know, we’ve seen some of those here in Central Pennsylvania, even just in the last few years. And it could even be a localized situation, where just one neighborhood loses power, or it could be broad swaths of houses, and areas lose it. What are some things to keep in mind for those scenarios, in terms of a loss of power and staying connected, and having the other things you need?

Russ Knapp –  Well, having a battery operated radio system, and also if you do have generators, understanding where to put your generators. You know, you don’t want to run the generator in your house. You want to have it far enough away from your house so that the fumes don’t enter your house while you’re–because that becomes then another emergency. And also understanding like what are your vital equipment that your generator does run? Because your generator is never going to feed a whole house. Here at the hospital, we have generators, but it only serves affected areas in certain outlets, and certain tools. So we don’t–we’re not going to have complete service. But what are the vitals that we need to maintain, and then making sure that you test that system that you develop so that you know it does work when the time does come.

Scott Gilbert – Sure, you know, documents like birth certificates and insurance policies, I feel like those are documents we never need until we need them, and–

Russ Knapp – Right.

Scott Gilbert – And in some scenarios, you know, we may need them rather quickly. What’s your recommendation with regard to storing those?

Russ Knapp –  Well and that’s something that maybe you could scan into a flash drive, or have a duplicate file that you could grab one of your little file boxes to take with you. Because it’s really going to help you if you know your policy numbers and your agent’s names and phone numbers, it might help you a little bit getting faster service than if you’re going to try to look things up and you know, you just use your name, it might not be as fast a service if you can produce your policy number, and who you– know, with your carriers and stuff like that.

Scott Gilbert – Sure. We have a question now from Julie. We’d like to bring that up on the screen. She’s asking if we have any suggestions for parents with college students. So you know, it’s true, that’s a great question Julie, because you know, what about people who are away at school? And making sure your kids are staying safe?

Russ Knapp –  So one of the things you might want to think about is, since they are away from school, if something would happen in that area, is there a meeting point that, or somebody, a friend in that area that they could hook up with, and you connect, and both of you have that connection with phone numbers, so that if you did lose your cell, but you could use a land line, and then that person might be able to have their services maybe up so emailing back and forth–so trying to just determine like hookup points, relatives that may be in the area you can say hey, if something would happen, and you can’t get hold of us, this is a relative that you could call, and then we can get with them also somebody that may be close to that area.

Scott Gilbert – Understanding that, and then even maybe the school’s alerting system, you know, is–does the school have an alerting system for the students? But can the [inaudible] more with that so they might get update events through that?

Russ Knapp – Sure, for example, for Penn State College of Medicine at Hershey, we have a system called Penn State Health Alerts, and that notifies the entire community, but also, you’re right, college students, College of Medicine students, are certainly a part of that.

Scott Gilbert – So some really good advice there, especially because I know a lot of us as parents if we think about our kids going away to school we want to make sure that they’re safe as they do so. So Russ, do you think COVID-19 has reframed what we as a society consider to be an emergency? Because I mean, in a way, because of the actions being asked of the general public, the pandemic could really be seen as a months-long emergency, couldn’t it?

Russ Knapp – Yes, and you know, before, we always talked about pandemic, but we never, it never affected us, you know, it was always over in, you know, Europe, or Africa, and that has really affected the whole world. And so we are–looking at like developing what our supplies are, and how do we have it? What do we need? And not just looking at local, but how do we also interact with our community? Trying to get the information out to them that we’re giving, you know, because we don’t want–you know, at one point in time, we didn’t want everybody just because they were becoming ill to come to the hospital. We wanted to be able to say you know, here are some guidelines that you could use, so that we could maintain a good, you know, the people who really truly needed help could get it, and then trying to make sure that we were keeping our community updated as to what we were learning through the systems and what other people were developing, you know, and we still do that. I mean, every day, we’re still in touch with Department of Health from Pennsylvania. We have different departments that send us input, and then we share that with the leadership, so that everybody is keeping up to date with what the current trends are, going on, with COVID. Because they’re not–it’s not like one thing fits all. You know, we have to understand that what are we doing today that was different than yesterday, and how do we keep moving forward?

Scott Gilbert – It’s a great point, because there is such a rapidly evolving and unprecedented situation, so there is so much we have to just kind stay in contact about and learn as we go along, I’d imagine. Let’s talk a little bit about Hershey Medical Center. Like I mentioned before, you’re the Fire Safety Supervisor at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, but you are, you know, obviously involved with response to a range of different emergencies. Can you take us behind the scenes a little bit, and talk about what emergency preparedness looks like at an institution of that size.

Russ Knapp – Okay, so one of the things that we deal with, because of the potential of a lot of patients coming to the hospital is like our mass casualty incidents, you know, working with our ER staff, our trauma staff, developing plans. We have, we’ve developed the decon system, and decon team, here at the hospital that we train regularly and with the growing of our facility, we have to be able to adapt, like right now, we’re in a process of with, the new ER almost being completed, looking at, you know, where are we going to do our decon set up to assist the ER in case they would need that set up, and also how are we getting, if we do get a mass casualty, how much, where are we bringing the patients in, so that we can have a nice smooth flow, and getting the right treatment done at the right time? Are there things that we prepare for–fire emergencies in the hospital. Right now, we’re looking at moving into the Children’s Hospital, so we’re doing a lot of tours right now with patients, or with the staff that’s going to be occupying the floors, talking about where their zones are, how would they respond? Where are the fire arm-pull stations? Teaching them where stuff is, before we move in. So that when we move in, we’re comfortable to do our jobs. And then when we also look at you know, what hazards do we have here? We just completed our hazard assessment for the campus, and looked at like what are our priorities, and how do we–what do we need to work on, so that as a team, that was where we start looking at the pecking order. What is our number one priority in coming down. This last year, one of the things we looked at is supply chain. Before that, it was really never high on our list, but getting into our supplies that we need in a timely manner, so that we can get them out to the staff, and take care of our patients, is something that the supply chain is doing a real great job, but they’re communicating with us if they also have problems doing that.

Scott Gilbert – That’s a great point. The supply chain, folks, really unsung heroes, especially the last several months, when their jobs have become so difficult, yet you would never know it from how well things have gone on the front lines throughout Penn State Health. When it comes to drilling the response, making sure people are ready, I know you mentioned talking with people about what would you do in this scenario, but we do a range of exercises, don’t we? I mean I know this because I have staffed the Public Information Office for function in some of those, but it’s a fascinating, but–and very necessary part of our emergency response.

Russ Knapp – Yes, we are required by, to do two drills a year. And most of the times our drills are really real-life events that we end up manning our incident command center, in setting up like, we’ve had a mass casualty incident back earlier this summer, and then now we’re looking at we’re going to be moving into Children’s Hospital from the other areas, so we’re looking at setting up how do we perform that move as like concerning an evacuation, but watching things go smoothly. Fire drills. I know some people get you know, say oh, we do too many fire drills. But the point is, so that they want everybody to be able to respond appropriately if something does happen, so we can’t do that if we don’t drill. And we look at it like we’ve done some COVID–in fact, we used to call it the Ebola Team. We used to practice if somebody would show up, how would we take care of that patient without infecting the hospital, you know, making sure that we’re not spreading the infection throughout the hospital. So we develop plans for that. Then we have to test the plans, because it’s amazing, you know, it looks good on paper, but then you never know until you actually start walking the process, does this process work for us? So that’s why we do drills, to make sure what we developed will work for us in real life, and the whole thing is, you know, we’re here to take care of patients, but we don’t need to create more patients by our own–you know, exposing ourselves to things.

Scott Gilbert – Exactly, careful at every step. And yeah, that Ebola Team turned into the Special Pathogens Team, which has played a really key role in response across Penn State Health to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, to broaden things back out, and take things back to where we started, and that is tips for people and their families to make sure that they’re prepared, there are some great resources out there, aren’t there? Because I know we throw a lot of information out there at people, but there are some agencies that have some good information, and I know we’ll share some of these in the comments section as well.

Russ Knapp – Yeah, Pennsylvania Emergency Management, PEMA, and/or FEMA, American Red Cross, they’re good places that you can go, and even to help you decide what type of kit, what are some of the basics that you want for the kit? They developed, have a good checklist that you can look at, and it goes over a lot, because like when we talked about weather emergencies, I only touched on a few of them, but when you really look at when they talk about weather emergencies, all really depends on where you live, you know, have different types of emergencies, or weather emergencies to prepare for. So great resources for talking about your local areas and what you can look at, and how you can plan, and give you some resources. They might even, I haven’t looked at it, but it might be one that, for parents that have students away, I never looked at, do they have a checklist for college? Aiding you and preparing for going to college? So many I’ll look at myself.

Scott Gilbert – Excellent recommendation, and of course, you know, this is the time of year when we are officially in hurricane season, even though summer is over on the northern hemisphere, hurricane season is still in effect. So as we wind things down here, any recommendations for people to be mindful of? Even though we don’t typically suffer the direct hit from hurricanes, we do sometimes see the lingering effects of the tropical storms, right?

Russ Knapp – Yes, so one of the things I kind of, and we do that here at the hospital is like we get assistance for both PEMA and [inaudible] County on weather announcements, and then we try to share them with our leadership here, and then we determine how it, how we should prepare, and then we start to share that information as if it–if we feel it’s going to have a big impact on us, start to share that with our employees and stuff. So being a little bit knowledgeable as to you know, looking ahead, because most of the storms that affect us, there’s usually some that give us almost a two–one or two-day advanced notice, and right now, like with COVID, we’ve learned that we have outside operations. So we want to make sure that we’re protecting our staff that is on the outside. So we are really monitoring our weather. [Inaudible] county has been a great resource in getting, when they get weather bulletins, they’re sending them out to hospital staff, so that we compare that with the leadership, and we also developed an email chain here that we’re working with our outside staff, our departments that have staff outside, and we’re forwarding that weather working with them. So some of the other thing we did was we gave, got some weather radio, got weather radio and lightening detectors when we were totally outside, in a tent, or we moved in the garage. So that gave them a little heads-up and they, it helps us prepare and monitor for situations that are coming to the area.

Scott Gilbert – Fascinating stuff. You cover such a broad range of information but you give us some great info here, in the last 20 minutes or so. Russ Knapp, thanks a lot for your time.

Russ Knapp – Thank you very much, and pleasure talking to you.

Scott Gilbert – Russ Knapp is Fire Safety Supervisor at Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. And again, make sure you check out the comment field below this Facebook post, for some links to some additional information about the things that we discussed today. Our thanks as well to Mike Dieter, our Producer, and thank you very much for watching Ask Us Anything About Emergency Preparedness, from Penn State Health.

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