In the Aftermath of Sandy, New York City Strives to Strengthen Its Health-care Facilities and Storm Procedures

Learning from Facilities Impacted by Sandy

NYU Langone Medical Center’s 11-acre campus on Midtown Manhattan’s East River waterfront comprises 2.3 million square feet and more than 1,000 licensed patient beds. Well before the storm, NYU Langone had developed modernization plans to increase its resilience considerably. Unfortunately, components of the hospital’s emergency power distribution system, which administrators planned to relocate from basement levels to higher floors, had yet to be completed. NYU Langone experienced some of the highest flood levels in New York City resulting from Sandy. Seawater poured into basements of every building on campus and rose to 1.5 feet above the ground-floor level.

As part of its emergency preparations, NYU Langone discharged all medically stable patients before the storm. Once it was clear water had reached buildings on the main campus, the medical center acted quickly to safely evacuate 322 patients. In addition, the elevators in the hospital were knocked out.

The inpatient facilities of NYU Langone were reopened nine weeks after the storm. Following Sandy, the medical center’s Campus Transformation plans were modified. In addition to the pre-Sandy plan to upgrade and relocate the emergency-power infrastructure to an elevation at least 20-feet above sea level, secondary flood barriers were put in place to protect critical areas within the buildings that could not be relocated to higher elevations. The campus and building perimeters were hardened,
and deployable flood barriers were purchased to raise the level of flood protection for the campus as a whole. (Deployable flood barriers can be like wall assemblies or doors designed for specific locations; others are like continuous barriers that can be rolled out in advance of a storm.) New elevators for the campus’ main inpatient tower were built with the lowest stop at the main first-floor level, ensuring they could remain in service if the lower levels were ever flooded again.

NYU Langone now is continuing its Campus Transformation Project with a new Energy Building, which was already under construction prior to Sandy. The building contains a 7.5-megawatt emergency power plant located at high floors. The Energy Building will also contain an 11-MW co-generation plant with standby boilers for onsite power and heat generation that can operate independent of the local utility. A newly relocated loading dock will incorporate deployable flood barriers. In addition, a new Science Building will open in 2017; it includes 368,000 square feet of new vivarium and wet lab space located well above flood levels.

The nearby Bellevue Hospital Center is America’s oldest continuously operating hospital and anchors one of the largest health districts in New York City along the East River waterfront. At its heart is a mammoth, 25-story inpatient tower housing more than 800 beds. At the height of the storm, Bellevue lost power, and an estimated 7 million gallons of black water flooded into the hospital’s interconnected 182,000 square feet of basement levels through two loading-dock entrance ramps. All five of the campus’ interconnected buildings were inundated, knocking out the fuel pumps serving the emergency power systems and every one of the complex’s 32 elevators, as well as domestic water pumps and water heaters, medical gas systems, utility steam feeds and pumps, IT systems, basement-level air handlers, fire pumps and fire-detection equipment, and storm and sewer ejection pumps. The hospital was offline for three months after Sandy.

Much work has been done at Bellevue to recover from the storm, including installation of a new 1,500-kilowatt replacement emergency generator located well above flood level, as well as raising of fuel-pump systems and many other critical infrastructure components above flood levels. Four elevator pits were also raised to ensure availability of vertical transportation. Bellevue also is installing new exterior connections for mobile boilers so if the Con Edison steam system goes down again, access to steam for heating, sterilization and hot-water generation is assured. Bellevue has also put in place a multi-layered flood-defense strategy, including new permanent flood walls, increased stormwater protection at existing structures and deployable flood barriers to protect vulnerable openings below flood level. These systems are designed to protect any critical infrastructure components that must remain below flood level.

Coney Island Hospital, a community provider located away from Manhattan but directly adjacent to the most vulnerable flood zone, was also forced to close when flood waters inundated the hospital’s basement levels causing the total failure of backup generators, along with all communication systems, elevators and medical gas systems. Even so, Coney Island continued to play a crucial role as a place of strength and refuge for the public during and after the storm. This case demonstrates hospitals are seen by the community as places for refuge in times of emergency, despite what they may be going through themselves, underscoring the importance of increasing hospitals’ resilience.

Coney Island, like Bellevue and NYU Langone, has undergone an extensive mitigation and resiliency program since Sandy. Many critical infrastructure systems have been replaced and hardened against future flood risk, and new flood barriers have been put in place. Realizing, however, it has limited ability to rectify underlying vulnerabilities because of its location and configuration, the hospital has put in place performance criteria that prioritizes maintaining life safety for patients and staff. A second priority is to maintain the operation of the hospital’s emergency department. To do this, emphasis was placed on the ability to continue receiving patients, shelter them and staff in place, and return to operation as quickly as possible in the event of evacuation. Third priority is given to maintaining critical infrastructure against risk of future flooding.

About the Author

Jason Harper, AIA, LEED AP
Jason Harper, AIA, LEED AP, is associate principal/senior medical planner for Perkins + Will New York. Harper helped lead the response and efforts to increase the resiliency of New York’s hospitals and health-care facilities after Hurricane Sandy.

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