Tough problems require tough solutions.
So when MD Anderson became isolated by the rising waters and swift currents brought by Hurricane Harvey, strong and sturdy heavy-duty trucks were called into action to forge floodwaters.
Rolling along on gigantic wheels, the elevated trucks delivered much-needed medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, blood donations, linens and food to the hospital. They even picked up stranded doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals from their homes, then delivered them to MD Anderson to care for patients.
“We kept ’em rolling 20 hours a day for four days,” says Vicki King, assistant police chief with The University of Texas Police at Houston. King was alerted to MD Anderson’s need for high-watervehicles during a daily hurricane briefing at MD Anderson’s Emergency Operations Center.
“We learned that a courier delivering donated blood from Dallas was stranded in the Gallery Furniture parking lot on the North Freeway,” she says. “He drove as far as he could, but flooded streets made it impossible for him to continue.”
MD Anderson’s leukemia patients greatly needed platelets from the blood, which expire after 72 hours. The clock was ticking.
“We called Harris County’s Catastrophic Medical Operations Center to request a boat or high-water vehicle to retrieve the blood, but all were busy rescuing citizens from their flooded homes,” says Matt Berkheiser, Dr. PH, chief safety officer and associate vice president for Environmental Health and Safety at MD Anderson.
That’s when King’s previous experience working in emergency management with the Houston Police Department kicked in.
“I remembered that during Hurricane Ike, which wasn’t nearly as bad as Harvey, the City of Houston’s Public Works Department loaned us some nontraditional vehicles that could handle high water,” she says.
King called a former colleague at HPD, and the two came up with an innovative solution: a garbage truck or a dump truck from the Public Works Department could retrieve the blood and deliver it to MD Anderson.
“For obvious reasons we chose the dump truck,” King says.
The city supplied not only the truck, but also a public works employee to drive it and two Houston Police Department officers to ride along and offer assistance.
"We dispatched it to pick up the donated blood, and then we kept it busy for days," King says.
The dump truck met delivery vehicles that were stopped by floodwaters on their way to the hospital.
“We’d tell them to pull over, wait where they were and we’d meet them with our dump truck,” King explains. “They’d hand us medicine, supplies, whatever, then we’d steer through flooded streets back to the hospital with deliveries in tow.”
Eventually, water seeped into the headlights and the truck became inoperable. To replace it, the Houston Police Department sent MD Anderson a high-water, two-and-a-half-ton military cargo truck, aptly nicknamed a “deuce and a half.”
The “deuce” could navigate through six feet of water, so MD Anderson used it to pick up essential personnel who needed to get to work. Employees were grouped in clusters by zip code to make the route more efficient.
“We’d collect them at home, give them a UT Police raincoat, put them in the open bed of the vehicle, cover them with a tarp, and off we’d go,” King says.
The deuce’s maximum speed was only about 50 miles per hour, so when it reached higher ground, employees would hop off and load into waiting UT Police SUVs, which would complete the trip to MD Anderson.
A second military vehicle originally designed to withstand land mines soon arrived. Owned by The University of Texas System in Austin, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle navigated flooded streets with ease and doubled deliveries to and from the hospital.
By the time floodwaters receded and operations returned to normal, UT Police had facilitated the transport of 68 physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, and transported countless medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, blood donations, linens, food and water.
“Harvey was my fourth hurricane, and by far it was the worst,” King says. “It’s humbling to see how we all worked together and just kept rolling.”