As our fellow Texans continue their recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey, I want to pause for a moment and reflect on my experience and lessons learned through Harvey.
Though I am a practicing emergency physician, my primary job is senior vice president of operations with a large physician services group. Starting with the initial preparations for Harvey’s arrival and continuing through the present recovery efforts, our team has provided support to 37 hospital-based physician practices in the specialties of emergency medicine, internal medicine and anesthesiology.
Our work during Hurricane Harvey has undoubtedly been some of the most grueling and challenging yet rewarding of my career. Through it all, I learned a great deal, made some great friends and will be even more prepared for the next disaster.
Here are the favorite lessons learned through my experience with Hurricane Harvey:
Experience matters. Our team of physicians, nurses, business leaders, and support staff has been working together for years. A few of us even worked together during Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike. We know each other well, we are familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of our team and we have an established communication style. There is no substitute for a seasoned and well-established team during a disaster.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin group, famously said “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” I couldn’t agree more. Author Jim Collins makes a similar point in is his book “Good To Great” where he touts a philosophy he calls “First who, then what.” According to Collins, the people within an organization are its most important asset. During a disaster, you can never predict the exact nature of the challenges that a team will face. But, if you have hired well, invested in your people, and they understand that they are highly valued, your team will be better prepared to face challenge and uncertainty.
Disaster response is by nature unpredictable. Many of the obstacles that we encountered during Hurricane Harvey are common to most Gulf Coast hurricanes and our team had faced them before. However, the size, path and duration of the storm made for some very uncertain circumstances. Though our response was not perfectly planned, our team was nimble and able to adapt to changing conditions. Dwight Eisenhower may have summed up this lesson best when he said “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything."
There is a tendency to focus on the big picture during a disaster, which of course makes sense. Supporting essential functions and basic needs must be the primary goal. However, the details matter a great deal, especially during a storm like Harvey that lasted so long. When resources run short, people are stretched much too thin and options are few, granularity can be very important.
I could not be more proud of the work that our team did during the recent hurricane. We accomplished our goals and prevented loss of essential service to hundreds of thousands of residents impacted by Harvey. With respect to our team, the system worked and our people succeeded. That said, we can always do better. Always improve. Always make the next time smoother and more effective.
Lessons learned during Hurricane Harvey will undoubtedly make us better prepared for the next disaster.
Dr. Adam Corley is an emergency physician and healthcare executive in Tyler.