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Hundreds Of US Hospitals Are At Risk Of Hurricane Floods – Experts Issue New Warnings

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“We now have a better sense of which hospitals are likely to flood from a hurricane today and those that need to prepare for greater risks in the future,” say experts.

The first study to comprehensively examine the flooding risk from Category 1-4 storms to hospitals on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts concludes that even relatively light storms pose a major flood danger to hospitals along the coast.

According to a study published today in the AGU journal GeoHealth, sea level rise expected this century due to the consequences of climate change increases the probability of hospital flooding by 22%.

“We now have a better sense of which hospitals are likely to flood from a hurricane today,” says senior author Dr. Aaron Bernstein, adding, “and those that need to prepare for greater risks in the future.”

“Hurricanes are expected to get more severe,” the researcher warns “and may strike regions further north than in the past due to climate change.”

“In places like my hometown of Boston,” according to the author, “we can avoid crises that other hospitals have had to endure by learning from their experience and creating plans that build on best practices. But we must act now before disaster strikes.” 

Within 10 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in the United States, researchers found 682 acute care hospitals in 78 metropolitan statistical regions, serving slightly under 85 million people, or roughly 1 in 4 Americans. In 25 of the 78 metro regions they examined, they discovered that at least half of the hospitals were vulnerable to flooding following a Category 2 storm.

The following ten metro regions are most at risk from hospital treatment during a Category 2 hurricane:

  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
  • New Orleans-Metairie, LA
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

According to the modeling, the number of beds at risk of flooding after a Category 2 storm has increased by over 90% in the metro regions of Baton Rouge, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Philadelphia, and Boston as a result of sea level rise predicted for this century.

Recent storms have ravaged the infrastructure of hospitals. This study shows that even if hospital buildings aren’t flooded, the roads around them might be, making it harder or impossible for people to get care.

In 18 metro regions, a Category 2 storm could cause at least half of the roads to flood within one mile of hospitals. Flooded roads have frequently been a major barrier to emergency patient transfers during hurricanes as well as patient and staff access to hospitals long after storms have passed.

According to the authors of the study, the 2016 Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center, which replaced the VA Hospital and Charity Hospital in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, serves as a paradigm for how coastal hospitals and health systems may increase their resistance to hurricanes. It was built to keep running for seven days even if the city’s utilities and infrastructure are damaged.

It has backup fuel supplies, on-site sewage treatment facilities, and enough space for up to 1,000 staff members and patients to stay put. The 100-year floodplain is at least 20 feet above the most important mechanical and electrical equipment and areas where people get care.

Source: 10.1029/2022GH000651

Image Credit: Getty

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