Encouraging Personal Preparedness

This section provides information on some of the most important disaster preparedness steps your facility can take, starting right now, and includes various tools, resources, and positive practices that we have collected.  This is not the final word, or everything you need to do, but rather some things to think about and tools to get you started.  If you know of a positive practice, tool, or other type of helpful resource that is not included here, please contact us.

The steps listed below are part of creating a realistic and functional Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) - something you can actually use in a disaster situation.  Again, this information is not exhaustive, but it is a good place to start if you are creating, updating or revising your EOP.  

  1. Meeting with External Authorities
    Meet with external authorities including your local Office of Emergency Preparedness, your local fire and law officials, and your local Public Health Department.  It is important to let these officials know where your facility is and what your facility does - in turn, you may take this opportunity to ask local officials what their response plan is for your area and even ask if they have considered your facility in their planning efforts.  It is also a good chance to work on your Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment with local assistance.

  2. Conduct a Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment (HVA)

  3. Encourage Personal Preparedness for Staff and Volunteers
    Have a personal and/or family emergency plan and a supply kit are critical steps to take now so that you and your family (including any dependent people or pets you care for) know what to do in a disaster.  This is also crucial to keeping your long-term care facility functional in times of disaster.  Employees with solid personal emergency plans are much more likely to show up to work in a disaster than those who do not. 

Keep It With You Personal Medical Information (pdf)
Simple Information For People with Pets (pdf)
  1. Understand How California Responds to Disasters:

    All disasters in California are handled locally, meaning that the local government holds the primary responsibility and it is the lead agency on the response.  All others (the region, the state, and the federal government) act in support of the local response.  It is important that the response be handled at the local level because the locals understand better than everyone coming in from the outside.  Also, it helps to ensure that resources that are locally available are used first in, which also promotes efficiency. 

    The Response System (SEMS & NIMS)

    California uses SEMS, the Standardized Emergency Management System, to organize its response to disasters. SEMS came about as a result of the 1991 East Bay Hills Fires, during which it became clear that California needed to standardize the way organizations responded to disasters.  The goal was to improve the coordination between state and local response agencies. 

    NIMS is the National Incident Management System and is based on SEMS.  NIMS is what the federal government has mandated that they, states and local agencies use to respond to disasters.  There are a few differences between SEMS and NIMS, and if you are interested, please click
    here to review the SEMS/NIMS Crosswalk.

    SEMS helps local authorities with inter-agency coordination, priority setting, and the efficient flow of resources and information - all important elements of a coordinated response.  Any agency wishing to receive disaster related reimbursement (i.e. from FEMA or the state) must document their use of SEMS and NIMS.  This is a brief overview of SEMS, and is NOT designed to teach everything there is to know about this complex but effective system. 

    There are many web-based resources that provide a much more detailed explanation of SEMS, as well as educational courses (both on-line and in person) that can provide SEMS training.  One place you can visit to learn more about the Standardized Emergency Management System is to visit:
    www.scc-ares-races.org/sems.htm.  You may also check the Governor's Office of Emergency Services website for additional SEMS information and training.

    There are four key elements of SEMS that it is important for long-term care organizations to understand: 

1.  Operational Area Concept

The Operational Area is an intermediate level of SEMS - see the diagram on the previous page.  The Op-Area consists of the county and all political subdivisions, including special districts, and the county government is the lead agency unless otherwise specified. The purpose of the Op-Area is to support the city response and coordinate obtaining resources, but the Op-Area does not manage city response.

2.  Mutli-Agency Coordination System

Because SEMS strives to make disaster response coordinated, one of its important components is the creation of a Multi-Agency Coordination System. Agencies and disciplines at any SEMS level need to work together in a coordinated effort to develop joint plans, coordinate inter-agency resource use and facilitate decisions. This is why CAHF stresses the importance of working with your local partners on disaster planning before a disaster occurs. Call your local fire department or local Office of Emergency Services to find out who is in charge of emergency services coordination in your county. SEMS Regulations also requires the use of inter-agency coordination in all Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).

3.  Master Mutual Aid Agreement

SEMS indicates the formation of a mutual aid system: the voluntary provision of services and facilities when existing resources prove to be inadequate. Under this agreement, cities, counties and the State joined together to voluntarily provide services, resources and facilities to jurisdictions when local resources prove to be inadequate to cope with a given situation. Written mutual aid plans and procedures have been developed for several discipline-specific mutual aid systems, and these function within the Master Mutual Aid Agreement. Fire and law enforcement have used mutual aid systems for a long time; there are others, including Emergency Medical mutual aid.

4.  Incident Command System

Incident Command System (ICS) is a useful tool to include in your organization's general Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). First developed by the military, ICS was modified by fire and law enforcement to manage their responses in the field and throughout their systems.  It was finally made applicable to healthcare, where it is referred to as HICS, or Hospital Incident Command System. Click here to look at the organizational chart we have made for long term care.

HICS (and ICS) is a way to coordinate resources (people and things) during an emergency. It helps you manage your response at an organizational level, and you will find that many other organizations, including EMS, hospitals, the public health department, and potentially other healthcare sites use it too. It is becoming more common throughout the healthcare system as providers realize how useful it is.  It is also used to manage the response at your local government level (usually your city, unless you are in an unincorporated area), the operational area (the county plus all its political subdivisions), the region (a group of counties), the state, and the federal government levels.

Click here to learn more!

Take Online Courses!

To look at some of the free online courses that can help you further understand the disaster response system and how your facility fits in please visit www.training.fema.gov/IS/.


  • Click on the ISP Course List in the menu list (right side).

  • Find the course you wish to take.  Hint: it might be helpful to print out the final exam to review prior to enrollment).

  • Upon completing the course, click "take final exam", complete and submit it.  You will receive a certificate of completion if you get 75% or more of the answers right.  You should print a copy or store electronically for future reference, such as receiving CEU's for taking the course.  Note: you don't have to take the test unless you wish to receive a certificate.

    Below are some courses you may wish to take, depending on your level of interest and availability of time.


Introduction to Incident Command System I100 for Healthcare or Hospitals
(alternately, you could take IS100: Introduction to Incident Command System)


Special Needs Planning Considerations for Services and Support Providers


ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents


Emergency Planning


National Incident Management System (NIMS)

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