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As the United States enters the second month of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season (June through November), an ImagingBiz story about what happened to MRI machines during Superstorm Sandy last October holds lessons for the care of scanners in storm-prone areas.

ImagingBiz talked to John McCabe, GE Healthcare product service director for MRI in the United States and Canada, about how GE managed to keep all 250 MR systems that it was responsible for in the storm area from quenching. Not only did that allow scanners to go back online as soon as possible after the storm, but it also prevented the world helium shortage from getting even worse. McCabe said:

If all those magnets would have quenched, I don’t know where the helium would have come from.

GE even prevented some machines that flooded because they were in basements from quenching. Of course, the company has some assets that individual scanning facilities can’t match. GE MRI machines have a battery backup and a proprietary service monitoring connection that allowed GE to remotely access its machines’ settings. It put them into a special low-operating-pressure hibernation mode that triples the time before the machine quenches. GE can also remotely monitor helium levels and refill machines as necessary.

Still, some lessons apply to everyone. The most basic: Plan ahead. GE told its cryogen suppliers it would need more refills than usual in the days before the storm. It secured adequate fuel supplies for generators and service vehicles before the bad weather hit. It made sure the families of service technicians in affected areas were safe and cared for so the technicians could work without worrying.

“I take pride that we saw this coming,” McCabe said. “It was a team thing, and it brought a lot of people very close.”

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