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Sandy’s Lesson: Relocate Vulnerable Scanners

November 20, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Emergency Radiology
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Superstorm Sandy, which has left several New York-area hospitals still closed three weeks after it struck the Northeast, has reinforced a message that we all should have learned by now: move scanners and other expensive equipment out of flood danger.

Sandy also reminded us that a lot more places are vulnerable to flooding than we assume.

MRI machines, CT scanners, backup generators, electrical transformers and junction boxes—they’re all heavy and bulky. Therefore, hospitals tend to install such equipment at ground level or even in the basement.

Sandy, like Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and other recent natural disasters, has shown the folly of that approach. Take the example of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System‘s Manhattan facility, which remains closed.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site:

The basement and ground floor were flooded, resulting in failure of electrical switches, mechanical systems, steam, and the fire suppression system. Also destroyed was clinical equipment, including a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) used in outpatient clinic areas, located on the ground floor.

DOTmed News reports that the scanner, a Siemens Avanto, is a total loss after being immersed in water.

At some buildings affected by Sandy, emergency generators also failed because they were installed at ground level, unprotected from floodwaters. The same thing has happened during many other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

And remember the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant? Crippled by the Japanese tsunami, it leaked radiation and threatened to melt down.

According to a November 2011 cover story in IEEE Spectrum magazine, when the earthquake toppled electrical transmission-line towers, the plant’s 12 diesel generators kicked in to keep the critical cooling pumps operating.

But most were in basement areas. The tsunami first smashed some of the pumps, then inundated the basements. The water knocked out six of the generators and destroyed the power distribution panels for five more. Only one generator stayed online—because it and its associated equipment were elevated above the water line. That generator kept two of the three operating reactors cooled, averting what could have been a much worse catastrophe.

It’s not rocket science. Hurricanes and other storms make all coastal areas vulnerable to flooding. Floodwater can also threaten lots of inland areas near rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Elevate critical electrical and mechanical equipment, including scanners and other medical devices, above the basement or ground floor, or otherwise protect them from water damage.

That way, emergency facilities will be able to respond to emergencies instead of exacerbating them.

Related seminar: Emergency Radiology

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