Sixteen years before rain from Hurricane Harvey formed a moat around MD Anderson, Tropical Storm Allison changed how the cancer center thought about natural disasters.
That storm dumped 5 feet of water on the Texas Medical Center, where MD Anderson is located, causing nine nearby hospitals to flood or lose power. MD Anderson remained operational during Allison but sustained damage to electrical systems and medical equipment in the basement of the Main Building, which houses the cancer center’s inpatient hospital and some outpatient clinics and research labs.
“I don’t remember anything that changed the way we thought about our facilities like Allison did,” says Janet Sisolak, director of MD Anderson’s capital projects. “For one, we had to think differently about where we put critical equipment.”
Elevate and barricade
Of all of MD Anderson’s facilities, the Main Building is the most vulnerable to flooding from nearby Brays Bayou. The institution’s South and Mid Campus buildings are situated on higher ground, and Mays Clinic and the Cancer Prevention Building were built with elevated foundations following Allison.
The institution ultimately received more than $30 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to relocate emergency power equipment, water pumps and medical gas systems to the second floor of the cancer center’s Lutheran Pavilion, 45 feet above sea level and well above the 500-year floodplain.
The Main Building’s first-floor façade was replaced with a 47-inch concrete floodwall that includes aquarium-grade windowpanes.
“People wonder why the windows are so high up in the Main Building’s Clark Clinic. That’s why,” Sisolak says.
Externally, floodgates that automatically rise when filled with rainwater surround the floodwall. FEMA funds also were used to double the size of storm drains running beneath Bates Street in the Texas Medical Center to nearby Brays Bayou.
“Should floodwaters breach the floodgates or floodwall, the basement is compartmentalized,” says Greg Hudgins, facilities project director. “One area may be sealed from another with a submarine-grade steel door.”
Mitigating damage before it occurs
When Houston took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike in 2008, the floodgates performed well, but wind and debris broke windows across the city.
That’s when MD Anderson installed shutters outside the intensive care unit and placed a protective film on the windowpanes of all patient care rooms.
“Each of these disasters brings new considerations,” says Richard Fitzgerald, architecture services director.
Real-time damage assessment and strong teamwork helped contain Harvey-related damage, says Tim Peglow, associate vice president for patient care and prevention facilities, who’s grateful that inpatients and families didn’t feel the impact of this most recent storm.
“They felt safe, knowing they were being taken care of.”