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Hurricane Ian Reveals Continuing Vulnerabilities for Healthcare Facilities

October 13, 2022 Leave a comment DRI Admin

In 2012, the stories of hospitals fighting to maintain services and keep patients safe during Superstorm Sandy rocked the resilience field. 10 years later, climate change may have made the dangers to vital facilities even more severe.

On Sept. 28, as Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm, at least 16 hospitals from central to southwestern Florida were forced to evacuate about 1,000 patients, according to Kaiser Health News. While some were able to move them before the storm hit, others waited until the storm had caused major damage – in one case, after part of its roof had been torn off and the ground floor flooded.

They also had to deal with helping their communities in the aftermath, with loss of power and running water, and traffic impediments from broken bridges and flooded roads. All these complications have given the area a stark reminder of the huge vulnerabilities to extreme weather events many hospitals are still not prepared for.

A recent Harvard study identified the challenges Atlantic and Gulf Coast healthcare facilities still face under weather events even less severe than Ian or Sandy, analyzing the flood risk to hospitals within 10 miles of the coastlines. Among the findings:

  • In more than half of the 78 areas analyzed, some hospitals were at risk of storm surge flooding from only a Category 1 hurricane
  • In 25 areas, half or more of the hospitals risked flooding from a Category 2 storm, and
  • Florida is home to six of the 10 most at-risk metropolitan areas identified, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region ranked as having the greatest risk of hurricane impact.

Many coastal cities are spending billions on storm surge protection plans, including elevating homes, adding sea walls, and in the case of many hospitals, fortifying buildings or even moving further inland. But as climate change creates stronger and more unpredictable storms, the question is: will that be enough?

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