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The Catalyst

Disaster preparedness a priority for university, medical center

By Ashley Barker
Public Relations

When watches and warnings are issued by the National Weather Service for the Lowcountry, signaling severe weather may be on the way, a group of officials at MUSC begins taking steps to ensure that patients, employees, students and visitors are secure.

Construction crews near the intersection of Jonathan Lucas and Sabin streets are installing four three-megawatt generators, purchased with the help of three FEMA grants, on the fourth floor of the university hospital. The new equipment is similar to what is already in place at Ashley River Tower and is expected to be operational by Sept. 1. The current generators have been in place on the first floor and are at risk when flooding occurs.
Construction crews near the intersection of Jonathan Lucas and Sabin streets are installing four three-megawatt generators, purchased with the help of three FEMA grants, on the fourth floor of the university hospital. The new equipment is similar to what is already in place at Ashley River Tower and is expected to be operational by Sept. 1. The current generators have been in place on the first floor and are at risk when flooding occurs.

The group, including Brian Fletcher, R.N., disaster preparedness program manager for the university hospital, has many memorandums of understanding with transportation companies. Planes, helicopters, buses and specialty vehicles would be mobilized in the event of an evacuation of the patient population.

Fletcher hopes the plans are never activated but maintains them just in case.

“Our first step, hopefully five or so days out from a hurricane, would be to draw down the patient census, have as few patients as possible by discharging as many as possible,” he said. “Then we would determine how many ambulatory patients, those who can walk and be moved by a normal car, and non-ambulatory, those who can’t walk and need special transportation.”

In the event that the patients stay in the hospital, the priority would become keeping the lights and medical equipment on.

“We learned a lot of lessons, as most hospitals did, after Hurricane Katrina,” Fletcher said. “Moving generation equipment out of the flood zone is important.”

For the past two years, crews have been working to totally isolate off the first floor of the university hospital in the event of flooding and to install new generators on the fourth floor. The construction, taking place on Sabin Street between the Clinical Sciences Building and Hollings Cancer Center, is nearing completion.

Thanks to three grants for pre-disaster mitigations funds from FEMA, generators on the first floor since the hospital opened are being replaced by four new, three-megawatt generators, equipment similar to what is already in place at Ashley River Tower, Fletcher said.

The new fourth floor central energy plant equipment is expected to be operational by Sept. 1.

“People see lights on here at MUSC when they’re stuck in the dark after a disaster, and they come here knowing there will be food and help,” Fletcher said. “We’re critical to the community. As one of the largest employers in the area, it’s about economics too. We want to keep people working.”

In the event of a hurricane or earthquake, Ashley River Tower would still likely be the safest place to be at MUSC, according to Fletcher. But the university hospital’s improvements are a step in the right direction.

“The glass at ART can take up 160 mph winds, and ART already has a central energy plant,” Fletcher said. The building also is able to sway eight inches in both directions, and its lower levels are secured from flooding.

Ultimately, patients and employees should prepare for a hurricane as early as possible. Everyone should have an extra supply of medications on hand prior to a storm in case pharmacies are unable to fill requests and have a plan to go somewhere safe.

“During a disaster, a hospital is not the place to go unless it’s an emergency,” Fletcher said. “Have a plan for sick family members, and know where you’re going.”

Former Air Force meteorologist Amanda Ritsema, who is now a program coordinator in University Risk Management at MUSC, revised the university’s Severe Weather Plan along with Jennifer Taylor, insurance programs manager. They are a part of team that is responsible for making sure designated employees and residents know where to report in the event of an emergency and students know how to evacuate.

If the governor of South Carolina calls for a mandatory evacuation of the downtown Charleston peninsula, MUSC’s campus will close to all non-designated employees. Evacuation routes are listed within the Severe Weather Plan, which is available to anyone with an MUSC NetID at http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/vpfa/operations/Risk%20Management/emergency/weather/documents/SWP_CY13.pdf.

If there is an imminent threat to the MUSC campus, University Risk Management will issue emergency notifications through the MUSC Alert System, including SMS text messaging, voice messaging and desktop alerts. To register for the notification system, visit www.musc.edu/muscalert. A weather information link also will be placed on the MUSC homepage in the event of an emergency and the 792-MUSC (6872) information line will be updated.

Generators also are being moved and steps are being taken to make sure buildings like the Institute of Psychiatry can safely house the university’s data center during an emergency. Additionally, plans are in place to allocate generators to vulnerable university areas such as those containing scientific research projects.

“Institutions up north lost a lot of research during Hurricane Sandy because they weren’t prepared,” Taylor said. “We’re using those ‘lessons learned’ to better prepare for such events.”

July 24, 2013
 
 
 

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