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Disaster Preparedness: Hurricane Damages Building Systems

By Chris Matt, Associate Editor - November 2008 - Health Care Facilities


One of the biggest challenges maintenance and engineering managers face is the unknown. Facility professionals do everything in their power to ensure safe, reliable operations for building occupants. But as all managers discover, they simply cannot prepare for certain challenges.

“Being that we’re in (the hospital) business and we’ve been here long enough, we know anything can happen,” says Bob Carpenter, assistant vice president of systems facilities at Ochsner Health System on the New Orleans-Jefferson Parish border. “You have a checklist, but there’s always that unknown. Every time something happens, you learn something new.”

Managers at Ochsner learned that lesson in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm, rolled through the Gulf Coast. Ochsner had disaster-preparedness plans in place well before the hurricane struck, but the challenges posed by Katrina were some of the toughest managers at Ochsner had ever experienced.

Ochsner was one of three New Orleans-area hospitals that stayed open during and after the storm. In fact, it remained fully functional. Managers dealt with a range of issues, including roof, window and HVAC damage, power outages, and communications system failures. But they applied the lessons they learned from Katrina to subsequent storms, such as Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008, and are better prepared for the next disaster — whenever it might strike.

“I wouldn’t know how to prepare for that had I not gone through it,” says Arnold Klein, director of facilities maintenance at Ochsner’s 2.5-million-square-foot main campus. “I think in going through Katrina, we were able to prepare well for Gustav.”

 





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