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How to safeguard health facilities

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Introduction

Planning and preparation are needed to protect health facilities and make sure they are able to continue providing health care during and after emergencies. A safe health facility will protect patients, visitors and staff from hazards. It will continue to function and provide essential services when they are most needed. And it will have emergency response plans and a trained workforce to continue the normal provision of health care and cope efficiently with the additional demands resulting from the emergency.

Building hospitals safe from disaster or making existing ones safer by retrofitting is surprisingly cost-effective. In many new health facilities, incorporating comprehensive protection from earthquakes and extreme weather events into the design from the beginning will add no more than 4% to the cost.

Retrofitting is an effective way to make existing hospitals safer, and thereby save lives. Using a tool to assess hospital safety will allow health authorities to determine priorities for renovating or retrofitting health facilities A Costa Rican hospital retrofitted before the 1990 earthquake withstood the shock of a 5.8 magnitude quake in excellent condition, with the savings far exceeding the cost of retrofitting.

Most of a hospital's value is represented by non-structural elements, including mechanical, electrical and communications equipment, shelving and water heating. It is damage to these that most often renders a facility inoperable. Retrofitting non-structural elements in an otherwise structurally sound facility costs about 1% of the hospital's budget but will protect up to 90% of its value.

Here are six actions that can make hospitals safe.