In January 2009, all eyes were focused on the Hudson River after a plane flying out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport struck a flock of geese and crash landed in the river. Thanks to fast acting by the pilots, all 155 passengers survived, with few major injuries, in the disaster dubbed “the Miracle on the Hudson.” However, trouble emerged in the aftermath when people tried to find out which hospital their loved ones had been sent to.
“Some of the patients went to New York and some went to New Jersey. And because of HIPAA laws, it was very difficult for airline authorities to get the names of who was where,” says Sharon Carlson, RN, director of Emergency Preparedness at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, CA. “As a family member you can imagine your terror knowing that your loved one was in a plane crash and not knowing where they are. That’s a big issue we always have, reunifying people after a disaster.”
“Because of [the Miracle on the Hudson] we decided in San Diego that we needed to make relationships before an event happens,” she adds. “Get to know each other, work together, know each other by first name, know each other’s number.”
Using the lessons learned from the Hudson, Carlson and her health system joined a disaster partnership with their local airport, San Diego International (SAN.) The airport has been growing steadily over the past decade, with over 22 million people flying in and out of it in 2017. The airport partnership was started originally in 2010 by UC San Diego Health system.
The transportation administration requires SAN to conduct major disaster drills periodically. As part of the partnership, Sharp Healthcare is included in those drills, Carlson says. They practice their communication process once a year to ensure everybody is on the same page and that there’s been no changes in the contact information.
“We have a partnership with the airports, so they know who to contact at our hospitals,” she says. “And we’ve sent it through our compliance and legal departments, they know what kind of information we can give them.”
In the event of a plane crash or disaster, airport staff have a list of hospital contacts so they can reach out, then read names off the plane’s manifest and the hospital will be able to tell them which people on the list are there or not.
“We don’t give out conditions, injuries, or illnesses,” she says. “We just say if they’re here or not. Because the airline is wanting to tell the family members ‘ok, go over here, your loved one is at this hospital.’”