Healthy Living in the North

Northern Health launches emergency notification system for staff computers and workstations

A desktop computer screen showing a popup test message.

An example of a SnapComms desktop alert and ticker on a nurse workstation computer in Quesnel during pilot project.

The 2017 Cariboo wildfires had a big impact on our region. It also proved to be a good learning opportunity for Northern Health (NH).

Following the wildfires, an after action report put together by the Northern Health Emergency Management BC (NHEMBC) team said staff felt there was room for improvement in the communications about changing emergency situations. Email doesn’t always work for reaching frontline staff, nurses, physicians, and other health care providers.

The NH Communications team and Information Technology Services (ITS) worked with NHEMBC to explore solutions.

After a year and half of testing and a two-day pilot in Quesnel, we’re pleased to launch SnapComms. SnapComms provides desktop alerts and a non-intrusive ticker to provide updates to staff on their computers. The NH Communications team, in collaboration with NHEMBC, will control the alerts and messaging. NH alerts do not replace alerts or notices sent out by any government or forest service agency, and are specific to Northern Health services and region only.

“SnapComms provides another avenue for the organization to be able to communicate with its staff in emergency situations,” says Laura Johnson, NH ITS Project Manager for SnapComms. “This is extremely important for our region, particularly as we deal with growing wildfires each year. Instead of reaching staff just through email, a message can pop up directly on their workstation providing critical details in an emergency situation.”

SnapComms was rolled out to all NH computers early this month, excluding important clinical computers. Messages will be targeted to computers and users in the affected area (e.g. Quesnel won’t receive notifications about a code orange in Prince Rupert.).

In alignment with our value of Innovation, NH is the first health authority in BC to launch a tool of this kind.

Brandan Spyker

About Brandan Spyker

Brandan works in internal communications at NH. Born and raised in Prince George, Brandan started out in TV broadcasting as a technical director before making the jump into healthcare. Outside of work he enjoys spending quality time and travelling with his wife and daughter. He’s a techie and loves to learn about new smartphones and computers. He also enjoys watching and playing sports.


Getting ready for fire season

The NH Emergency Management team posing.

The NH Emergency Management team. L – R: Amber Frizzi, Coordinator; Jim Fitzpatrick, Director; and Jana Hargreaves, Coordinator.

Northern Health’s Emergency Management team is working hard to make sure the North is prepared for possible future fire seasons.

Using “lessons learned” from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, they’ve created evacuation guides for hospitals, care homes, and other Northern Health facilities, and they’re reviewing and updating emergency response plans as well.

They’re also working with the City of Prince George on a mock evacuation exercise for May 2019 — this will be an annual event.

As well, they’re collaborating with the provincial emergency group and Interior Health on “mutual aid” arrangements to use each other’s emergency preparedness staff if needed.

Finally, Northern Health is taking part in “spring readiness” forums for emergency decision makers throughout the North, with the aim of ensuring everyone’s safety in an emergency.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!


A 5-minute drill with Health Emergency Management

Image sharing the definition of a 5 minute drill.

How would you respond in an emergency? Tough one to answer, isn’t it, especially as emergencies can vary so much. Many of us probably remember doing fire or earthquake drills in elementary school, but even though emergencies can still happen at any moment, we don’t practice what to do that often. In a healthcare setting, there are so many different types of emergencies, threats, and risks that can occur on a daily basis. We write procedures and response plans for these things, but our Health Emergency Management (HEM) team is taking it further, with their new 5-minute drill.

The 5-minute drill is an exercise, either physically acted out or discussed, that simulates an emergency response plan or process for just a single function or time frame within the first five to 20 minutes of an emergency.

“This is an important activity for hospital staff to participate in so that we’re prepared in the event of an emergency, to discover how we’re not prepared, and to take away some of the assumptions of who should be doing what,” says Jana Hargreaves, Northern Health Coordinator, Health Emergency Management BC. “The benefit of doing these in this format is that it’s less taxing on staff as far as shift coverage, time constraints, and they can be done on duty with minimal impacts to staffing.”

The different kinds of codes to practice with 5 minute drills.

Drills are usually focused around the different hospital emergency codes, such as code red (fire), code orange (disaster or mass casualties), or code black (bomb threat), which according to Jana is “the most fun because it’s easiest to act out with a small group.”

The Northern Health (NH) HEM team has been engaging with site champions (staff volunteers) at NH sites to help roll out these drills since last May. So far, Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, and the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George have been practicing the drills on a regular basis.

“We have been receiving some excellent feedback that the drills are a way to ‘start the discussion’ about emergency codes that are in place in our facilities,” says Jana.

The HEM team plans on releasing new sets of each year, with the next being slated for May 2019. Some hospitals have taken the templates Jana has made and created their own 5-minute drills.

If your Northern Health site wants to run their own 5-minute drill, contact the HEM team at

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)