Hospitals were once thought to be places of refuge during catastrophic hurricanes, but recent disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have demonstrated that some hospitals are unable to ensure the safety of patients and staff and the continuity of medical care at key times. The government has a duty to safeguard public health and a responsibility to ensure that appropriate protective action is taken when disasters threaten or impair the ability of hospitals to sustain essential services. The law can enable the government to fulfill this duty by providing necessary authority to order preventive or reactive responses - such as ordering evacuation of or sheltering-in-place in hospitals - when safety is imperiled. We systematically identified and analyzed state emergency preparedness laws that could have affected evacuation of and sheltering-in-place in hospitals in order to characterize the public health legal preparedness of 4 states (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York) in the mid-Atlantic region during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. At that time, none of these 4 states had enacted statutes or regulations explicitly granting the government the authority to order hospitals to shelter-in-place. Whereas all 4 states had enacted laws explicitly enabling the government to order evacuation, the nature of this authority and the individuals empowered to execute it varied. We present empirical analyses intended to enhance public health legal preparedness and ensure these states and others are better able to respond to future natural disasters, which are predicted to be more severe and frequent as a result of climate change, as well as other hazards. States can further improve their readiness for catastrophic disasters by ensuring explicit statutory authority to order evacuation and to order sheltering-in-place, particularly of hospitals, where it does not currently exist.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Safety Research
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Health(social science)
- Emergency Medicine