The New Mercy Joplin Hospital

How the new Mercy hospital is now prepared to weather the next event in Tornado Alley

Mercy administrators decided right away that the new facility would not be business as usual. In January 2012, ground was broken for a US$465-million, 240-bed hospital that would go a long way toward raising the standards of well-protected facilities. No longer would they fear the wrath of storms in Tornado Alley. The new facility would be designed to withstand virtually anything Mother Nature could muster. Here are a few ways the hospital fights against destructive events like the Joplin tornado.

Upgraded Windows
Windows throughout the former facility, with the exception of some made of safety glass, were broken. Losing the windows meant the building was open to wind and debris. Shards of glass became weapons. Wind blew down the halls and blew out the ceilings. The safety glass withstood most of the wind, for the most part just cracking.

Windows in the new facility are 20 percent stronger than the safety glass of the original hospital. The new safety glass is rated to hold off 140-mph (225-kph) winds. In critical areas of the hospital like the intensive care units, glass is rated to withstand winds of 250 mph (402 kph) and projectiles hitting it at 100 mph (161 kph).

The Building Envelope
The original hospital's synthetic exterior was lightweight and not as projectile-proof as concrete or stone. After the storm, you could see how projectiles like timber and glass had flown into the building walls and stuck to it. In the new building, exteriors in patient-care areas are reinforced concrete, stone and brick.

Improved Roof System
The original hospital had roofs that were simply metal decks and Styrofoam insulation. The ballast, or small rocks used to hold down the roof in some areas, became projectiles, doing considerable damage as the wind got hold of it. All roofs in the new hospital are concrete, with a double-roof system and waterproof membrane.

Hardened Stairwells
Stairwells opened into penthouses on the roofs, but the penthouses were blown off, exposing the staircase to winds. The winds, in turn, blew into the interior of the building and tore off the drywall. The new hospital has hardened board with special fasteners to reinforce construction. It also stands up much more strongly to rain and wind than regular drywall, which crumbled easily and left the facility vulnerable.

Interior Safe Zones
In the old hospital were few places of safety. Halls were destroyed, ceilings were caved in, elevators were exposed. In the new facility, there are designated safe zones similar to storm shelters. In these safe zones, walls, ceilings and floors are connected with extra structural supports in a way that makes the entire interior a stronger space. The thinking here was to create a safe zone that could withstand earthquakes, with anchored light fixtures and heavier doors with stronger frames.

Power Sources
When the tornado hit, transformers went down immediately. The backup power engaged, but that went down only seconds later. Generators and fuel tanks, located outside the building, were destroyed by flying debris. There was no power to any of the hospital, including critical areas. Hospital staff worked in darkness, caring for patients on inoperative life-support equipment.

The new facility has a separate, central utility plant—a hardened, concrete structure—that is partially buried. The housing includes diesel generators for the backup power supply. Fuel tanks are located underground. Code requires 24 hours of fuel, but the new tanks hold four times that.

There is also a battery backup to the backup, which is basically a UPS or uninterruptible power supply.

Emergency Command Center
The old hospital had one, but without power it quickly became useless. It had to be set up in a nearby hotel. The new hospital's command center is in a highly protected space on the lower level and includes all communication devices necessary for emergency management. There's also a portable backup command center housed in a trailer parked a distance from the hospital. During the tornado, the hospital lost its backup trailer because it was in the parking lot adjacent to the hospital.


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