On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo. The storm killed more than 160 people, injured more than 1,000 others and destroyed nearly 7,000 homes. Businesses were flattened, trees were stripped of their bark and St. John's Regional Medical Center was destroyed.

Disasters like this can strike any hospital: Since the Joplin tornado in 2011, several hospitals have been affected by serious natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and a deadly EF-5 tornado in Moore, Okla., earlier this year. Although each disaster situation is unique, hospitals can improve their emergency plans and their disaster response by understanding previous events.

A new ASHE video — "The Joplin Tornado: Emergency Preparedness and Beyond" — explores the story of St. John's, which has been rebuilt and is now called Mercy Hospital Joplin. The video tells the story of the disaster and the hospital's response, and offers critical lessons learned from the clinical, facilities and C-suite perspectives.

Facility manager Gerald Lawrence says he arrived at the Joplin site soon after the tornado hit. His first thought was to head to the generator building to ensure that power was restored, but he soon discovered that was impossible.

"Cars were piled up like leaves," Lawrence says. "The helicopter was totally destroyed, laying on its side … . When I got to the generator building, it was gone. An air handler laying right in the middle of the generator building had destroyed it. There were sprinkler lines that were shooting water right into the main electrical bus. There was going to be no power whatsoever."

Facility professionals worked to shut down a spewing gas line and dealt with water pouring out of ceilings into darkened hallways littered with debris."We would try to think of one danger after the next," Lawrence says.

There were plenty of other concerns, too: the structural integrity of the building, the magnetic resonance imaging machines, security issues, and managing media and others wanting to see damage at the site. Data and medical records needed to be retrieved from computer rooms, as did one patient's prosthetic leg, says Kevin Wagner, regional manager for planning, design and construction. One doctor needed biopsy tissue samples because the biopsies couldn't be repeated and the results were not yet known; it would have been impossible without the samples to tell whether the patients had cancer.

Once these immediate needs were met, planning began for more long-term solutions, including temporary facilities at first and more permanent structures later.
The video offers advice for planning, design and construction officials working on health care projects in the wake of a disaster. Mercy Hospital Joplin is sharing its story so that other facilities can learn from the life-changing Joplin disaster.

Order the DVD at www.ashestore.com and make sure your emergency plans incorporate these lessons.

By Deanna Martin, senior communications specialist for ASHE.

ASHE insight

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The ASHE Blog keeps members up-to-date on the latest developments affecting the health care physical environment. The blog also offers a free subscription service so that members can get posts delivered directly to their email inboxes. To sign up for this service, visit www.ashe.org/blog, sign in and click "Subscribe" in the black bar near the top of the page.

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