Raising the Standard for Disaster-Readiness

Every day when we listen to the news or read the paper, we are shocked by tragic scenarios and large-scale natural disasters. We must prepare our buildings for worst-case scenarios, it is a harsh reality. Given finite resources, however, hospitals must attempt to focus their resources on the most likely and potentially serious scenarios, but the forward-thinking preparation that has been applied with the help of Heery’s Commissioning agents at the Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center (KSMC) is a project facility programming case that should be studied by other medical operations facility staff and leadership.

KSMC is a general and surgical hospital located in the Portland Metro area in Clackamas, Oregon. The 624,000 square foot medical campus has more than 300 beds for a variety of emergency procedures and care, from a new born infant hospitalized for a medical condition, or the plethora of medical needs and emergency care following a larger scale natural disaster.

It is the sole-purpose of a medical facility to be open and available during emergencies and large-scale disasters. Disaster response involves many different community resources—from police and fire departments to medical providers, structural and environmental engineers, transportation and housing experts. In the much larger picture, the hospital is the epicenter of medical care delivered to those who are injured. Running a hospital is an enormously complex task under the best of circumstances; preparing a hospital for a disaster is infinitely more complicated.

The KSMC administrators and facilities team realized they needed to begin planning for any such emergencies by developing back-ups for power and water supply. Each medical facility has a Basic Sequence of Operations for building systems – this is important to understand when considering preparation for an emergency. Sunnyside Facility Director Cary Vincent is a strong proponent of disaster-readiness and sustainability and has achieved many of KSMC’s lofty goals when hiring Heery to be their Commissioning Agent.

The Emergency Water System is an unusual project in the Northwest as it is believed that there is only one other hospital in the region that has installed something similar.
As for complexity, Senior Commissioning Agent Bob Bowyer explained that the most difficult aspect of this project is testing the system on a 24/7 active hospital without causing interruption to normal operations.

“We have written a functional test plan for the system that will require utility water to be cut off to isolate the hospital approximately 4 times to prove the sequence,” he said. “As we test the system through its Emergency Design Intent controls functions, an end user should not see any loss of water.”

The backup water system and filtration was implemented with two buried, horizontal, cylindrical tanks. The tanks are fiberglass reinforced plastic tanks with a diameter of 10 feet and length of 48 feet. Each holds 25,000 gallons – with KSMC’s average water demand being 11,250 gallons per day, providing the hospital with four days of emergency water supply if they lose utility mains fresh water.

Two 25,000 gallon, fiberglass reinforced water storage tanks are being installed below the east parking lot. Once complete, only a pump house sitting directly above the tanks will remain visible.

The energy backup for the hospital includes on-site diesel generation to support the facility if a major catastrophe occurs. This has been another ongoing Commissioning task by Heery, validating and performing many complex shutdown tests that prove the Hospital’s state of readiness under loss of utility power on KSMC and many other Kaiser Northwest medical facilities.

Employing both of these emergency systems prepares the hospital to be ready for disasters and to serve its community when it needs them most. It is with great hope that these systems are never needed for such disasters, but the peace of mind for the community and the hospital leadership is paramount. Heery is well-versed in guiding clients through the process of identifying improvements in Normal, Alternative and Emergency infrastructure systems and has been working with many healthcare clients to help them prepare for any future natural disaster.