Systems modeling in support of evidence-based disaster planning for rural areas
The objective of this communication is to introduce a conceptual framework for a study that applies a rigorous systems approach to rural disaster preparedness and planning. System Dynamics is a well-established computer-based simulation modeling methodology for analyzing complex social systems that are difficult to change and predict. This approach has been applied for decades to a wide variety of issues of healthcare and other types of service capacity and delivery, and more recently, to some issues of disaster planning and mitigation. The study will use the System Dynamics approach to create computer simulation models as “what-if” tools for disaster preparedness planners. We have recently applied the approach to the issue of hospital surge capacity, and have reached some preliminary conclusions – for example, on the question of where in the hospital to place supplementary nursing staff during a severe infectious disease outbreak—some of which we had not expected. Other hospital disaster preparedness issues well suited to System Dynamics analysis include sustaining employee competence and reducing turnover, coordination of medical care and public health resources, and hospital coordination with the wider community to address mass casualties. The approach may also be applied to preparedness issues for agencies other than hospitals, and could help to improve the interactions among all agencies represented in a community's local emergency planning committee. The simulation models will support an evidence-based approach to rural disaster planning, helping to tie empirical data to decision-making. Disaster planners will be able to simulate a wide variety of scenarios, learn responses to each and develop principles or best practices that apply to a broad spectrum of disaster scenarios. These skills and insights would improve public health practice and be of particular use in the promotion of injury and disease prevention programs and practices.