Take these steps to protect your building

There are several steps you can take before a storm to ensure your building and its contents are protected, says William Phillips, PhD, president of Riteway Services, a Winter Park, FL-based business that handles facilities management for ambulatory surgery centers.

Riteway Services has a pre-checklist for facilities. (See Severe Weather Preparation checklist in PDF format.) If a hurricane approaches that is expected to be a category 2 or above, facilities shut off their generators to secure power for later, Phillips says.

In preparation for recent Hurricane Francis, Kissimmee (FL) Surgery Center prepared for a Category 3 hurricane, which meant turning off all power. Once the power is turned off, heat and humidity build up in the facility, and all sterile packages must be resterilized, says Lou Warmijak, administrator.

Also, medications that need to be refrigerated will need to be stored when power is turned off, Phillips points out. Store them in dry ice or regular ice in a 90-hour cooler, he suggests. "Once you pack them, suck the air off them with a portable vacuum," Phillips advises.

At press time, Warmjak’s center was gearing up for Hurricane Jeanne, which was predicted to be Category 1 or 2 and hit before the next workday. After the facility finished with the last patient of the day, all equipment was to be covered, and everything essential was to be moved off the floor, he said. Trash bags were going to be used to cover all electronic equipment and OR equipment, and the equipment was going to be moved into rooms with no windows.

All computerized data was to be backed up and moved off-site into waterproof areas, adds Warmijak. In addition, items could be stored in waterproof safes and also could be moved to secured locations owned by the hospital company that owns the center, he notes.

The managers were devising a plan that included a time to check out the building, post-disaster, Warmijak said.

"That’s when the response is put out to staff that the building is open and we’re ready to work, or we’re closed and they should wait to hear from us," he says.

After Hurricane Charley, the center had no electricity or phones, so the leaders posted a notice on the building about the situation and the anticipated return of electricity, Warmijak says.

Keep in mind that if your telephone system goes without power for 72 hours, it may lose its programming, Phillips points out. Add remote access terminals and download the telephone program before a disaster, so you can access the telephone programming from your facility’s computer later, if needed, he suggests.

This process can be handled by your telecommunications provider and takes about 15 minutes, Phillips says. "The cost is minor compared to someone sitting there and reprogramming your system for two days," he adds.

Also, install phase monitors on all air-conditioning units and vacuum pumps, Phillips advises. The monitor will prevent your power from restoring if the voltage or phase is not correct, he says. Air-conditioning or electrical contractors can provide those monitors for about $75 per installation, Phillips says. "That’s not too bad, considering that otherwise you may lose a motor that, in a disaster situation, may take you a week to get."

There are automatic and manual phase monitors, Phillips says. "We always use the automatic," he says. "If we have a lockout situation [with the power], we don’t know when that will occur, and we’re not sure when it will be restored." Those systems also work well for thunderstorms, he points out.

Also have a prearranged contract for debris cleanup before a hurricane actually hits, Phillips advises. "After the storm hits, you can get to work, and they’re cleaned up right after the storm," he says.