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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Health Care Coalition Response Leadership Course

Author: Richard C. Hunt, MD, FACEP, Senior Medical Advisor, National Healthcare Preparedness Programs HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 7/18/2019 9:06:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Exercises & Trainings;

From Penguins to Practical Solutions that Enhance Disaster Response

Teams that perform well have a shared mental model of success. Think about penguins. In the waters of Antarctica, penguins form groups to perform a complex task: get food in a chaotic environment with competing demands. But, all of these penguins are operating with a shared idea of success: fish for dinner (or breakfast, or lunch…). Healthcare coalitions often don’t have that level of clarity and that can be a real problem. When their teams come together, they often don’t agree on the goal. According to experts from the Naval Training Systems Center, teams that perform well have shared mental models. Put more simply, it is more likely that your team will achieve a goal if you all understand what the real goal is.

The Health Care Coalition Response Leadership course helps healthcare coalition members achieve that shared sense of purpose and start thinking about their real goals: saving lives, decreasing morbidity, and continuing to care for people in the face of disaster. The course helps move people away from thinking about their coalition in terms of just administering the grant or finding their place on an org chart and toward the core purpose of the coalition.

Different Roles. Different Regions. One Purpose.

The Health Care Coalition Response Leadership course brings together core members from different disciplines to redefine the way they think about disaster preparedness. The course, which was developed by HHS/ASPR’s Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) and FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, gives attendees a chance to build relationships and get practical experience to help them better prepare for disasters and emergencies.

Together, HPP and FEMA developed the course and teach it at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, AL. The course includes classroom instruction, practical experience, and best practices for responding to disasters as a health care coalition leadership team.

Each coalition brings two leaders from each of their core members: hospitals, EMS, public health, and emergency management. They bring a ninth participant from any discipline. At least one of the one person must be a nurse or physician.

To create the best learning experience, HPP carefully selects the three coalitions that participate in each class. While you probably know the people in your own coalition, you don’t know the people from the other two coalitions until you walk in the door.

Meet Our Coalition

To begin the class a representative from each coalition does their “Meet Our Coalition” presentation. Participants from the other two coalitions fire off questions. To their surprise, participants uncover some common – and some very different – experiences.

Reactions to the “Meet Our Coalition” presentations come quickly. “What communication system do you use?” “You really have an EOC?” “How did you evacuate so many hospitals?” “Our first time with the Coalition Stress Test was hard too, but we learned so much.” “How did you do that purchasing agreement with your supplier?” “What patient tracking system do you use?”

The coalitions’ different organizational structures, types of disaster responses, geographies, and populations make for lively class discussions.

Not Keeping to the Schedule

The only schedule we HAVE to keep to is getting you to lunch and to the bus on time. Instructors know this class is different. Yes, the course has a schedule. Yes, there are PowerPoint presentations. But, letting participants and coalitions learn from each other is far more valuable than keeping to a strict schedule or making sure every point on a slide is covered.

Instructors patiently facilitate and let intense conversation go on for critical topics like: how and when to activate as a coalition, what it means for a coalition to “respond,” the impact of the CMS rule, succession planning, and active shooters. The conversations lead to new possibilities and solutions.


Exercises are the most important part of the course. At the beginning, six hospital representatives, two from each coalition, go to a flip pad in one corner. Representatives from EMS, public health, and emergency management each go to a separate corner and start writing on flip pads. After each discipline presents its priorities for the scenario, it’s common to hear, “I thought it was just Mary from EMS in our coalition who came up with those EMS priorities all the time. Seems like everyone in EMS has the same priorities!” Participants quickly learn the cultural differences among the disciplines in their coalition make them stronger.

Each coalition works as a team on exercises too. Participants learn about ways that they can contribute to a response, including information sharing, situational awareness, resource sharing, and policy development.

No surprise here … the exercises get tougher as the class progresses. There’s the Electro-Rave Festival mini exercise, a weather-related exercise, and (of course!) there’s an infectious disease exercise. During the intense problem solving sessions, the coalitions’ participants learn more about each other and how they each have extraordinary skills, resources, and talents. They don’t really know how much they have together until they come to Anniston.

Finish Strong!

The last class assignment is for each coalition is to meet and decide on three to five goals they plan to achieve within six months. They also develop a vision of what their coalition will be in three years. Each coalition reports out their plans and vision.

Faster than the Speed of Light

Coalitions grow faster than the speed of light in Anniston – it is really amazing. The Health Care Coalition Response Leadership course participants make new friends with members of the other coalitions. They tend to stay in contact and share their knowledge and experience. They have discovered their own coalition’s participants are far more knowledgeable, resourceful, and committed than they imagined. They will rely on each other with a new sense of purpose. Yes, the sum of their parts is greater than the whole. Five days of commitment in Anniston. Five days that have made their coalition’s response to disasters much stronger.

Sign Us Up!

Interested in applying for the Health Care Coalition Response Leadership Course? Download the application and start forming your team today!


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