Earthquake-ready: Learning and preparation never stops for local hospitals
It's easy to assume hospitals will always be there for us when we need them no matter what. But what about after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake?
After all, they stand on the same ground everyone else does. In order to be ready, they prepare. In the process, they take the lessons from each major event and apply them for the future.
"People are excited about it, and have a good attitude about being ready, especially when the earth shakes between your feet," said Kenneth Baker, Manager of Safety Emergency Management at Providence Alaska Medical Center. "You know, you're like, 'Oh my gosh what do I do?' So getting people excited about what they do here at the hospital and what they do at home so their families are safe is really, really important. So that's the big thing: practicing and getting everybody's education level up there."
After the Nov. 30 quake in Southcentral Alaska, Providence kept its learning going. While it has plans in place for supplies, many of the lessons are of the practical variety.
"Moving equipment or patient supplies to our patients upstairs because our elevators are out for a certain period of time, that is all important as well," Baker said.
Many questions need to be asked beforehand.
"How do we get food to them? How do we get equipment, supplies, nursing supplies to our nurses and caregivers?" Baker said.
Ninety-six hours' worth of supplies is kept on hand because, as Baker says, in the event of a big one, "we could be without stuff for a long time because of the distance we have between here and the Lower 48."
And issues with barges could extend that time.
It wasn't only this earthquake. Following another quake in January 2015, the hospital incurred some damage to the parking garages. But after last year's 7.1, there was no issue.
At Alaska Native Medical Center, the water supply was a focus after Nov. 30, 2018. In a hospital, water is a lifeline of which the supply must continue to flow. Following the quake, some neighborhoods had to boil water to ensure its cleanliness.
"We went ahead and valved off from the city, isolated ourselves from the city and we went ahead and started using down our tanks," said Shad Schoppert, the health facilities engineer at ANMC.
He estimates they can last three to four days. But even the 100,000 gallons in what's known as "the tank room" can eventually be used up. There's another option to ensure they're not sweating over that supply.
Currently, there's a groundwater well being utilized for a cooling system. It's not rated for drinking yet, but with help from state engineers, it could be. That would involve using chlorine for treatment if they have to isolate from the municipality again.
While there's concern about pipes rattling and shaking, the structure is safe. It was built after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and is expected to withstand a 9.5 shaker.
At Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, staff members had recently gone through a preparedness drill on Nov. 7, 2018, so they too were ready. Afterward, thinking about those simple life details was key.
The elevator system is designed to lock and shut down after a significant event. The company which services those elevators is based in Anchorage. It took coordination to get them up to the hospital to reinspect them and ensure everything was in order.
Ultimately, it's about working together. Medical facilities around the region do communicate and check in with one another. There may be a business competition in standard times.
But when it comes to a moment of need, it's understood that everyone pulls together.
"We do collaborate very well during an emergency," Baker said. "We become not just one hospital and a hospital over there, we become one large hospital to take care of our community for health care."
And that means learning together, too.
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