Diverse and complex disasters impact communities across our nation, which in turn affect blood providers and hospitals. Annually we have come to expect fires burning through neighborhoods, tornados ripping across the mid-west, and hurricanes plundering the coast. But despite the importance of preparedness, unexpected disasters prove to be a persistent challenge for responders.
The American Red Cross was put to the test on September 11, 2001 when modes of transport into the city of New York were shut down. Though the Red Cross was successful at moving over 10,000 units of blood in and around the city within 24 hours, the event evoked a shift in how to manage and prepare blood suppliers for emergencies across the nation, underscoring the importance of a safe and adequate supply of blood.
Since then, the Red Cross joined others to collaborate as members of the AABB Disaster Task Force and participated with other blood banking organizations, blood collector and hospital suppliers, and government agencies in the development of the AABB Disaster Handbook. Members are proactively engaged with FEMA and other state and federal agencies for disaster planning including developing scenarios for National Level Exercises and providing input on national emergency planning documents.
At an organizational level, the Red Cross has emergency readiness strategies to supply essential blood products and services around the clock, including during the need to respond to natural disasters and manmade events. These comprehensive plans manage both local and national disasters and include the coordination and communication of activities at the centralized Biomedical Service Operations Center (BSOC). The BSOC coordinates the organization’s national network of blood regions to move aid to hospital customers where it is needed most. If the demand exceeds a local region's supply, the BSOC directs other sites to provide support to fulfill the need. This can also involve transfer of operations from one site to another should a site be deemed inoperable.
In an emergency the Red Cross and other blood centers work together with Federal and State agencies, third-party contractors, Angel Flight, military airlift, State National Guard and law enforcement agencies.
At a community level, the Red Cross takes a proactive approach with hospital customers to collaborate on creating and testing disaster plans to ensure a more streamlined and effective response when the need arises. Additionally, educational opportunities are provided to our hospital partners through our SUCCESS program on leading industry practices, inventory management and recommendations for blood shortages that can be called upon during times of emergency.
As we continue to witness an unfortunate increase in man-made mass casualty events, there is a growing need for blood for trauma situations. It is the blood already on the shelves that saves in these types of events. To ensure we are ready to respond, the Red Cross must maintain active and ongoing recruitment efforts to be prepared for the unexpected.
Preparedness also requires innovation. Through product innovations, the blood supply can be enhanced. For example, Group O whole blood for transfusion, and other product advancements encourage sustainable practices necessary for a resilient blood supply to endure a disaster response.
None of this would be possible without the support of volunteer blood donors. Our nation has witnessed time and time again the willingness of generous individuals to respond that is dependent on a donor base built through community partnership and trust, and collaboration at many local and government levels.
In summary, a layered and integrated approach to preparedness by which blood suppliers join health care providers and the donor community equips the Red Cross to be in an evolving state of readiness to support blood product needs during emergency events.
Nejela Almohanna, MA
- Disaster Preparedness in the Blood Bank. Alyse N. Gschwender, Laurie Gillard. American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science Oct 2017, 30 (4) 250-257; DOI: 10.29074/ascls.30.4.250 http://clsjournal.ascls.org/content/30/4/250
- Blood transfusion preparedness for mass casualty incidents: Are we truly ready? Stubbs JR & Jenkins DH. Am J Disaster Med. 2019 Summer;14(3):201-218. doi: 10.5055/ajdm.2019.0332. PMID: 32421852. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32421852/