Ounce of prevention when facing gallons of trouble

May 23, 2019
“Average” hurricane season predictions shouldn’t be overlooked—up to four major hurricanes could threaten the U.S. this year. Here’s how coastal doctors of optometry can prepare now.
Hurricane Season

On the brink of Atlantic hurricane season, June 1 to November 30, long-range forecasts predict "close to normal" storm activity; yet that's little solace for coastal communities still recuperating from five major hurricanes since 2017.

As preliminary predictions go, normal is a relative term when considering the pre-season outlooks for the past two Atlantic hurricane seasons were also near average and still spawned the likes of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence and Michael. The latter two combined to kill more than 100 Americans and cost $50 billion in damage, while the 2017 season was retroactively classified as 'hyperactive' with a combined $265 billion in damage and thousands of fatalities.

'Average' in meteorologists' parlance denotes upward of seven hurricanes but fewer than four of category 3 or higher strength. That said, officials still stress the adage, "it only takes one." That's why an average prediction for this hurricane season should get coastal doctors' attention.

Earlier this May, Hurricane Preparedness Week emphasized that awareness is not preparedness when it comes to hurricanes. In other words, it's simply not enough for Americans to know the dangers and hazards of hurricanes but to proactively prepare for one of nature's most destructive phenomena.

Below are three tips and suggestions for hurricane preparedness from doctors of optometry who learned these lessons the hard way.

  1. Review (or make) your plan.

    Having a hurricane plan—and likewise periodically reviewing or updating it—will take the guesswork out of what you and your staff must accomplish ahead of any impending storm. This list should include everything from the basics of an updated staff phone list or who's alerting patients of appointment cancelations to the more specific, such as what equipment must be raised off the floor and covered, and how the building itself will be prepped.

    Danica Marrelli, O.D., assistant dean of clinical education at University of Houston College of Optometry, waited out Hurricane Harvey in her Pearland, Texas, home while the college canceled classes. She says doctors can adopt tips from the university's own emergency procedures plans.

    "For the clinic, we have a primary person who is responsible for changing the answering machine to reflect our closure and for activating our SolutionReach patient communications system to notify patients that we are closed," Dr. Marrelli says. "There is a back-up person who also knows the process in case the primary person cannot take care of the task."

    Additionally, Dr. Marrelli says the reality of any impending natural disaster is that doctors and their employees still have their families and personal property to prepare besides their place of employment. "Having a plan can ease anxiety and may have a positive downstream effect on them," she adds.

  2. Check your insurance.

    Does your policy cover rain damage or flooding? Does it cover the replacement value of equipment or only the depreciated value? How about the cost of recovering or copying damaged records? Before hurricane season is when you need to take a thorough look at your insurance policy and make sure your coverage is up to date, says April Jasper, O.D., who was affected by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

    "Have copies and contact person information on hand if needed," Dr. Jasper says. "If your insurance coverage is adequate, be knowledgeable about requirements, such as a clause stating that 'in order for coverage of equipment to be in effect, the said equipment must be in the covered building.'"

    As Ron Hopping, O.D., continues, understanding your insurance coverage is critical; when 30% of the homes in his community were flooded by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, only 60% had flood insurance. Dr. Hopping adds that his office has several types of insurance beyond flood coverage, including property and business interruption, too.

    "Flood insurance covers rising water damage to the structure and contents, while property insurance also includes damage from wind and hail—the deductible of this type of insurance is usually 1 or 2% if you are within 50 miles of the case—and business interruption insurance usually has a 24- to 48-hour waiting period, but then it covers loss of income and extra expense (which covers payroll, rent and ongoing expenses) and would cover relocation if you have to move your office for a while to keep seeing patients," Dr. Hopping says.

  3. Protect your records.

    Ensure your practice records are safe and sound. This means offices still using paper charts should take appropriate precautions to avoid water damage or even consider going electronic. However, electronic files can just as easily be damaged by water, so consider a cloud-hosting service to keep EHR data off-site and make sure data backups run regularly. "Back up all data off-site and be certain your back-up is adequate," Dr. Jasper reiterates.

    Adds Dr. Hopping: "Many years ago when the water damage to our office stopped at the door to our paper patient records file room, we knew we had to go paperless, and we knew after the first hurricane that we needed to have electronic records that we backed up off-site."

Help when you need it most

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, a program of Optometry Cares ®—The AOA Foundation , helps get doctors' lives back on track when natural disasters strike. Since its inception in 2005, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief has granted nearly a million dollars to provide immediate financial relief for those critical and urgent needs following a natural disaster, such as food, clothing and shelter.

In particular, hurricanes represent the greatest draw on relief funds with 2017 a record year for Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief. That year, three major hurricanes resulted in $349,500 granted to 113 doctors with another $16,650 granted to 71 students caught in these storms' wake. This past year alone, seven natural disasters ( including two hurricanes) resulted in $37,500 granted to 16 doctors.

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief is always poised and ready to help get doctors and students back to doing what they do best—caring for patients. But, these helpful grants can't happen without your help. Make Your Donation to Optometry Cares Today!

Consider a tax-free donation to Optometry Cares and designate your investment to the disaster fund at any time. Likewise, any doctors or optometry students affected by recent natural disasters can apply for assistance.

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief

To apply for aid or donate to the cause, visit aoafoundation.org/OFDR.

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