When more than 50 inches of rain fell across the Houston area in just a few days at the end of August, traffic came to a standstill, streets turned into rivers, and schools and businesses closed their doors. Thousands of residents had to be rescued from rising floodwaters, and even more were forced to flee to emergency shelters.
While we could not control Hurricane Harvey, we could control our response to it as an institution. And our response at MD Anderson was remarkable. Our emergency preparedness teams have trained and prepared for almost every emergency, and our Incident Command Center was up and running days before the hurricane made landfall in Rockport. By the time the storm regained strength and headed to Houston, we were prepared. Our floodgates were in place, and many of our teams were in-house or on standby.
The floodwaters were historic, on the scale of what might be expected once every 1,000 years. At our Texas Medical Center campus, more than 1,000 employees rode out the storm on-site for several days to provide exceptional care for 538 patients in the hospital, 15 patients in the Emergency Center and nearly 300 patients’ family members. Those on campus included not only physicians and nurses, but also teams from Facilities Management, UT Police, Dining Services and so many others. During our recovery, many more of our dedicated people made it in, eager to help however they could.
We estimate 35% of our 21,000-strong workforce was severely impacted by this storm. We’ve heard countless examples of how people witnessed our culture of caring in action. It has filled me with pride in our MD Anderson community to hear over and over the common offer: “What can I do to help?” We’ve heard stories of employees wading, kayaking and even swimming to work out of concern for colleagues and patients. We’ve heard about employees rescuing their co-workers from rising water or arriving at colleagues’ flooded homes to rip out carpet and sheetrock. Some of our faculty and staff volunteered at emergency shelters, too.
There are so many heroes of Harvey across MD Anderson, and I thank you for your dedication to caring for our patients and each other.
We weathered this storm together. We persevered and demonstrated our resiliency. Although Mother Nature brought out her worst for those days in August, we continually we saw the best in our people. And we demonstrated that together we can do great things. It’s the same drive we have toward our bold mission to end cancer. It’s who we are. We truly are MD Anderson Strong.
Although more than 1,500 miles away in Toronto, Canada, at the time of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall and subsequent inundation of southeast Texas, I watched with rapt attention the media coverage of the catastrophic storm and the awe-inspiring response of those in its destructive path.
As the storm churned and the floodwaters rose to historic depths, what I witnessed from afar were Texans and their neighbors banding together and helping each other in ways that not only buoyed those in need at a most desperate time but also served as an example for the world of what togetherness really means.
The same can be said of MD Anderson. Having been named by UT Board of Regents as the sole finalist for the MD Anderson presidency just one day before the storm arrived, I was able to receive from Dr. Marshall Hicks and other leaders and former colleagues firsthand accounts of the above-and-beyond, heroic efforts taking place to keep the institution secure and its more than 500 inpatients safe during and immediately after the storm.
Even as floodwaters overtook the Texas Medical Center’s streets and lapped at MD Anderson’s doors, the employees who served as the institution’s ride-out team over several days epitomized resilience. Beyond protecting patients and property in extremely trying circumstances, the team also positioned the institution to pivot quickly to a recovery phase that enabled clinics to reopen and patient appointments to be rescheduled with minimal delay.
Thanks largely to a 20-year term as a member of its faculty, I was already well-aware that MD Anderson is a special place, and I was struck once again by just how special it is. In good times and in bad, people make the difference, and in the face of this epic storm, MD Anderson’s people did more than that. They, along with their friends and neighbors across the region, helped restore hope.
A special place indeed.