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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

`Everyone here is a hero’ – Hospital evacuates patients in middle of `Frankenstorm’

If your back-up generators failed, could you evacuate all of your patients and staff in the middle of the storm of the century?


That’s exactly the position that NYU Langone Medical Center employees found themselves in Monday during superstorm Sandy, which flooded parts of New York City and downed the hospital’s generator power. The hospital said the storm surge, which was higher than expected, flooded its basement.

Staff evacuated all 300 patients by ambulances to nearby hospitals. It took about 15 hours to get out all of the patients, according to an Associated Press news report. Staff made 10 to 15 trips down darkened stairwells lit by flashlights beginning Monday night, AP said. They started with the youngest and sickest babies, including about 20 babies in the neonatal ICU, AP said. Some were on battery-powered respirators. Some patients were carried out on portable “sleighs.” Nurses held IVs and other equipment. One patient referred to the evacuation as “organized chaos."

As it that situation weren’t stressful enough, the hospital’s chairman of the board and hospital namesake, Kenneth Langone, was at the hospital recovering from pneumonia. Langone praised the hospital’s evacuation efforts and told that “the story here is the magnificence of the effort of all of our people and what they did.” His sentiments were echoed by Bernard Birnbaum, MD, a senior vice president at Tisch Hospital, the flagship at NYU, who said to the staff that “everyone here is a hero.” Other hospitals in New York and New Jersey also had to evacuate patients to nearby facilities due to power loss or flooding issues.

Several lessons can be learned in terms of disaster prep. NYU sent about 100 of its 400 patients home earlier on Monday, which mean they had 25% fewer patients to evacuate when the time came.

Another lesson is to examine the location of your back-up generators. Years ago, in post-Katrina coverage, our Same-Day Surgery newsletter warned readers to consider locating at least one critical emergency generator on a second or higher floor, or possibly a lower rooftop. Consider these other suggestions from that post-hurricane coverage:

  • Have wet vacs at designated areas in the facility connected to critical power to remove water.
  • Have these items in place to weather the storm: additional roof drains as well as scupper drains lower on the parapet walls of the roof, hurricane-resistant glass in windows, a separate water well system powered by generators, and a drop tank for diesel fuel next to the generators in the event water rises on the ground or below the ground storage fuel tank.
  • Fill sinks, tubs, etc., with water that can be used for flushing waste or boiled to use as emergency drinking or sanitation supplies.
  • Move computer servers to a higher floor. Unplug all electronic equipment, elevate it off the floor, and cover it with plastic bags.
  • Conduct a visual inventory of food, linen, and medical supplies to know the location and quantity and to ensure they aren’t in an area that could be infiltrated with water. Cover them.
  • Have battery-powered or satellite forms of communications.
  • Latch fire-rated doors leading to rooms on the exterior of the building to provide protection from high winds.
  • Arrange a mutual response plan with a facility both in your area and a sister or adopted facility in another community so that the unaffected center can get some needed supplies moving to your center the next day. Some suppliers can help set this up, so talk to your vendors about such disaster help.

We hope you never find yourself in the situation that NYU did, but if you do, these steps can help ensure that you’ll also be praising your staff as heroes, instead of facing a disaster of a different kind.