The authors noted that the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center in New Orleans, built to replace a hospital that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, served as a good model for how coastal hospitals could improve their resilience to hurricanes. The facility features backup fuel supplies and on-site sewage treatment, and its critical mechanical and electrical equipment are at least 20 feet above the 100-year floodplain, or the area that would be inundated by a severe flood.
Researchers emphasized, though, that hospital preparedness should not stop at making individual hospitals more resilient. Even if hospital buildings themselves are not flooded, the roads leading to them may still be, effectively cutting off a functional hospital from patients who are trying to reach it, Dr. Bernstein said.
In 18 of the metropolitan areas, at least half of the roads within a mile of the hospitals were at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm, the researchers said. Hospitals cannot be “a resilient island in a fragile ocean,” said Auroop R. Ganguly, a geosciences and civil engineering professor at Northeastern University who was not involved in the study.
Dr. Bernstein also emphasized that health care providers in some major cities, like New York, Boston and Philadelphia, might face much higher risk than expected. Because of where the hospitals are located and the numbers of hospital beds relative to the populations they serve, when a storm does hit, there will be “more people searching for fewer beds,” he said.
The study contributes to a better understanding of how to characterize the damage that a hurricane can inflict on the communities it hits, said Kristie L. Ebi, a professor in the University of Washington’s Center for Health and the Global Environment who wasn’t involved in the study.
For example, there’s often a perception that much of a hurricane’s damage comes from high winds, Dr. Ebi said, but in reality, it is the flooding that has a much bigger effect on life and property, both during the storm and in its aftermath.