The February 2021 winter storm: A week I won’t forget
In my 22 years at MD Anderson, I have seen hurricanes, floods and freezing conditions in Houston, but nothing like the February 2021 winter storm.
On Feb. 14, 2021, a winter storm brought snow, ice and freezing rain into the Houston area, with extreme cold temperatures that extended for several days. It was an historic event that resulted in road closures, widespread power outages, loss of heat and broken pipes across the state of Texas.
At MD Anderson, our Incident Command team had started preparing days in advance. We had several calls a day with leaders throughout the institution to discuss our emergency plans.
When the storm started, I was working from home and trying to coordinate emergency plans with limited internet connection. I was later asked to work in the command center on our Texas Medical Center Campus. As I was leaving for work, I found out there was a major water leak at my home. Others around me were also dealing with significant damage to their homes, but we were all invested in caring for MD Anderson’s patients first.
More than 1,700 employees stayed on our TMC Campus to care for 428 patients and our facilities. A significant number of patient appointments had to be cancelled or rescheduled. We had a critical blood supply shortage, loss of research experiments and limited remote work capability.
The winter storm was also the catalyst for reduced water pressure that led to a boil water notice for the city and an unprecedented water outage event for MD Anderson. Our Main Building had to be disconnected from the city water supply to avoid contamination, and water tank trucks were mobilized to provide buildings with water for critical needs. Our employees handed out bottled water to our patients. When the boil water notice was lifted, our team members spent eight hours flushing 1,200 toilets and taking 220 chlorine samples so that we could open our doors to patients as quickly as possible.
This challenged us in new ways and forced our teams to be flexible given the changing conditions – all while maintaining our COVID-19 protocols. Everyone came together as a team to quickly move patients due to water leaks, donate blood for our patients, deliver food and drinking water to those on campus, and more. Our teamwork and resilience get validated every time we have an emergency event. This is one I won’t forget.
Devina Patel is director, Environmental Health and Safety, Sustainability and Emergency Management at MD Anderson.