Hospitals in coastal cities are at risk of flooding even in ‘weak’ hurricanes, study says

The authors noted that the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center in New Orleans, built to replace a hospital that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, served as a good model for how coastal hospitals could improve their resilience to hurricanes. . The facility has backup fuel supplies and on-site wastewater treatment, and its critical mechanical and electrical equipment is at least 20 feet above the 100-year floodplain, or the area that would be inundated by a flood severe.

However, the researchers stressed that hospital preparedness should not be limited to making individual hospitals more resilient. Even if hospital buildings don’t flood, the roads leading to them may still be, effectively cutting off a functional hospital from patients trying to reach it, Dr. Bernstein said.

In 18 of the metropolitan areas, at least half of the roads within a mile of hospitals were at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm, the researchers said. Hospitals cannot be “a resilient island in a fragile ocean,” said Auroop R. Ganguly, a professor of geosciences and civil engineering at Northeastern University who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Bernstein also emphasized that health care providers in some major cities, such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia, could face much higher risk than expected. Because of the location of hospitals and the number of hospital beds relative to the populations they serve, when a storm hits, there will be “more people looking for fewer beds,” he said.

The study contributes to a better understanding of how to characterize the damage a hurricane can inflict on the communities it hits, said Kristie L. Ebi, a professor at the Center for Global Environment and Health at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. study.

For example, there is often a perception that much of a hurricane’s damage comes from high winds, Dr. Ebi said, but in reality, it is the flooding that has a far greater effect on life and property, both during the storm and after. .