The International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction wrapped up yesterday with a focus on strategies to maintain safe health care facilities.

Yesterday’s general session, Avoiding Disaster: The Texas Medical Center Story, was led by leaders from the Texas Medical Center, a medical district encompassing more than 50 million square feet of construction.

Bert Gumeringer, MSIT, CHFM, FASHE, assistant vice president facilities operations at Texas Children’s Hospital was joined by Michael Hatton, CHFM, RPA, SMA, SASHE, vice president of facilities engineering at Memorial Hermann Health System; and Timothy Peglow, PE, SASHE, associate vice president, patient care and prevention facilities at MD Anderson Cancer Center. The three expounded on the lessons they learned after their facilities were hit by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and how those lessons helped them to prepare for last year’s equally severe Hurricane Harvey and maintain operations with little damage.

Gumeringer shared pre-storm activities that facilities professionals should adopt to ensure they can get operations quickly back up and running post-storm. He stressed the importance of obtaining contracts with for necessary resources before known events, such as securing water remediation specialists and sheetrock.

“After the storm is too late to contract construction companies,” he said. “At Texas Children’s, we had five different companies under contract prior to the storm. We were able to parcel out damaged sites to different companies to get things back up and running as quickly as possible.”

He also touched on the importance of establishing an incident command structure and keeping an accurate log of decisions and resources being used.

“You must have clearly defined levels of authority,” Gumeringer said. “Have a few key people making decisions because these events are very resource dependent.”

Peglow gave advice on hardening and maintaining the physical environment to withstand the impact of extreme weather conditions. MD Anderson only suffered $1.5 million in exterior damage, which he said is fairly minimal when considering Houston’s flat terrain and the 44 inches of rain that poured down on the city during Hurricane Harvey.

“If you can manage your exterior, you can help minimize flooding” he said.

The cancer center has 25 flood gates to maintain a watertight barrier around the campus. The gates not only protect against flooding but also help to control unauthorized access into the hospital during a disaster.

Roofing is another critical component he talked about and warned that applying value engineering techniques to save money on roof costs could end up costing more in the long run if it can’t hold up to harsh weather.

Peglow also recommended having permanent sump pumps in below grade departments and temporary sump pumps to handle emergency flooding. The equipment should be tested regularly and three to four days before a known weather disaster.

Risk management is another important factor touched on during the session.

Hatton stressed that “Grandfathering is not a risk mitigation strategy.” Or, in other words, that just because something is allowed, doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your facility. He advised elevating critical components where possible, avoiding value engineering on key infrastructures, and investing in redundancies for emergency power and fuel systems.

He also encouraged those leading facility operations to advocate for resiliency among the C-suite when building new or renovating projects.

“We have to keep this in the leadership’s mind,” Hatton said. “The C-suite moves around and positions shift, but it’s up to us to bring these items up and fight for dollars to keep these projects around as the leadership changes.”