Hospital building on fire

Disaster Risk Management for Healthcare Facilities

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By MedEquip. Updated August 18, 2017

The 2008-2009 focus of the biennial World Disaster Reduction Campaign was on “Hospitals Safe from Disasters: Reduce Risk, Protect Health facilities, Save Lives”. In that global effort, WHO established partnership with the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and the World Bank to work together to strengthen preparedness of all health facilities against emergencies and continue to function.

A safe hospital will not collapse in disasters, killing patients and staff, it can continue to function and provide services as a critical community facility when it is most needed, and it is organized with contingency plans in place and health workforce trained to keep the network operational.

Ensuring that hospitals and health facilities are safe from disasters requires strong commitment from the highest political level and support and contribution from all sectors of society.


  • Hospitals and other health facilities are vital assets to communities on a day-to-day basis and when disaster strikes.
  • Safe hospitals protect patients, visitors, staff and the investment in health infrastructure from hazards.
  • Safe hospitals continue to function and provide life-saving medical care in disasters.
  • Assessment of the safety and preparedness of hospitals identifies priorities for remedial action, including cost-effective retrofitting.
  • New hospitals are safeguarded by risk-sensitive siting, design and building in compliance with building codes.
  • Emergency planning, staff training and exercises build hospital capacity to manage risks and respond effectively.

Why is this important?

Health systems rely on a range of public, private and nongovernmental health facilities to work together to serve the community. In times of emergency, this is even more important.

Hospitals, primary health care centers, laboratories, pharmacies and blood banks work with non-health sectors, including energy and water supplies, transport, and emergency services to ensure the continuity of health services.

During emergencies, hospitals play a vital role in:

  • Providing emergency care to the injured (e.g. trauma care, surgery and blood transfusions) and to the critically ill, as in outbreaks of communicable disease.
  • Collecting and analyzing data on illness to detect and prevent potential outbreaks.
  • Delivering health care before and after an emergency (for the management of chronic
  • disease, maternal and child health services, and psychosocial support).
  • Providing immunization services to prevent outbreaks of diseases, such as measles, that lead to needless deaths of susceptible populations (commonly children).
  • Providing critical services, including laboratories, blood banks, ambulances, rehabilitation, aged care and pharmacies. Hospitals also represent enormous investments for any country. Destruction of such facilities results in significant economic burdens. Failure of hospitals and emergency services during a disaster can greatly affect public morale and a community’s social and health capital.

What are the health risks?

Traumatic Injury & Death: Associated with structural collapse and non-structural failures, patients and health workers at an unsafe facility may be killed or injured by trauma associated with the disaster.

Disruption of health services: Destruction of hospitals interrupts acute and chronic health care, community disease surveillance, laboratory analysis, blood and drug supplies, and support for community health programs, both over the short and long term post-disaster phase.

Overcrowding can functionally disrupt health services if the hospital lacks arrangements to respond to a surge of patients and visitors.

Impeded emergency response: Hospitals represent community focal points for mounting and coordinating emergency responses in the midst of disasters. Loss of hospitals as a health care facility hinders immediate responses and may divert emergency responders and resources away from the community to focus on rescue of hospital occupants and salvage of critical hospital supplies.

Loss of economic investment: Destruction of hospitals represents a huge economic loss, particularly since vital health resources are diverted to rebuild the facility in place of funding community programs and healthcare designed to maintain the population’s health.

Risk management Considerations

Governments and communities can make health facilities safer and better prepared for emergencies by:

  • Developing and implementing national policies and programmers to make health facilities safe in emergencies.
  • Selecting a safe site for health facilities.
  • Designing and constructing safe health facilities.
  • Assessing the safety of existing health facilities, e.g. by applying the Hospital Safety Index.
  • Protecting health workers, equipment, medicines and supplies.
  • Ensuring that health facilities receive essential services.
  • Developing partnerships between health facilities and the community.
  • Developing emergency risk management programs and response plans for facilities.
  • Testing and updating response plans with drills
  • Training health workers to respond to emergencies.
  • Evaluating and learning lessons from past emergencies and disasters.

10 basic facts to know about safe hospitals

Hospitals Safe from Disasters-United Nations

WHO-Humanitarian Health Action

Disaster risk management for health: overview

Disaster risk management for health: chemical safety

Disaster risk management for health: child health

Disaster risk management for health: climate risk management

Disaster risk management for health: communicable diseases

Disaster risk management for health: people with disabilities and older people

Disaster risk management for health: mass casualty management

Disaster risk management for health: mass fatalities/dead bodies

Disaster risk management for health: mental health and psychosocial support

Disaster risk management for health: non-communicable diseases

Disaster risk management for health: nutrition

Disaster risk management for health: radiation emergencies

Disaster risk management for health: sexual and reproductive health

Disaster risk management for health: water, sanitation and hygiene


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17 Comments to Disaster Risk Management for Healthcare Facilities

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    • oltimer says:

      Thanks for contributing. Hospitals are the “Last stand” in any community, be it during war, earthquakes, mudslides, or nuclear attacks. Dedicators who bomb hospitals during war would make hell blush apologetically.

  14. Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article post. I wanted to write a little comment to support you.|

    • oltimer says:

      Thank you. The right knowledge in the right minds makes the world safer to live in. The wrong knowledge in the wrong minds makes the world a lot more dangerous. Ask Kim Jong Un et al.

  15. […] Disaster Risk Management for Healthcare Facilities  […]

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