UTMB emergency management officials and executive leadership began tracking hurricane Ike late in the week of September 1st, and participating in the Texas Division of Emergency Management State Operations Center conference calls with the National Weather Service (NWS) on Sunday September 7th. Predicted paths varied from the lower Rio Grande Valley to the Florida panhandle early on, but it was assumed that a Texas landfall was likely. By Tuesday it was felt that the storm track would make landfall at Corpus Christi, Texas and concern over a Galveston landfall was reduced somewhat. On Wednesday new NWS data indicated a likely upper Texas Coast strike and UTMB leadership were re-engaged in preparations for this storm. It was determined that a full-scale patient evacuation would be necessary and assessments were quickly conducted to position transportation assets to arrive in Galveston on Thursday September 11th. By late Wednesday the UTMB leadership was committed to an evacuation decision early Thursday morning, and this was in fact the case, given the overnight weather information.
UTMB evacuated 469 patients from the inpatient towers, correctional hospital and behavioral health facility. Of these, some 80 were neonates including Infant Special Care/Intensive Care level 2 and level 3 babies. Patients were transported to facilities in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas.
According to the special situation of the City of Galveston, a hindering factor for an extrahospital ground transport evacuation is the 2 mile long causeway leading to Galveston County. Ambulances can only pass this bridge safely if wind-speeds are below 40 mph. Such wind speeds may occur as early as 12 hours before the hurricane makes landfall. As such, planning efforts need to assure that an evacuation should be finished no later than this time point of 12 hours. This specific time was calculated for Friday, September 12th 2008 at 12:00 noon. The evacuation plan of UTMB envisions for such kind of storm tide events, and a countdown of 120 hours (5 days) begins and a "countdown clock" from H-120 hours tracks significant events against the time remaining before tropical storm force winds arrive. The phase of 120 to 73 hours pre arrival of the hurricane estimates a normal hospital duty roster and two daily conferences in the Emergency Operations Center, under the leadership of the Incident Commander. A final decision for an evacuation must be made by 72 hours pre arrival, in order to request evacuation assets in an adequate number and with appropriate staff and equipment, before this time point. Simultaneously, elective admissions and transfers of patients to UTMB hospitals were stopped. Locally arriving patients received only ambulatory or stabilizing treatment in the Emergency Department (ED) and were discharged or transferred to other hospitals. Four hundred, sixty-nine (469) patients were evacuated during Thursday September 11th 2008, during the period of 36 to 24 hours before the estimated arrival of sustained 40 mile per hour winds (H-0). All mobile patients and those without need for monitoring were discharged directly and picked up by family members. Eighty-two patients were transported by coach. One hundred, forty-three (143) ambulances were sent to Galveston from a staging area in San Antonio, Texas, some 225 miles away. Forty-eight patients were transferred by ambulance to the nearest airports. Following these shuttle-transports all available 143 ambulances transported patients to the above mentioned hospitals. An additional 23 patients would be picked up by helicopters, directly from the landing deck of the UTMB Emergency Room. One hundred and two correctional patients were transferred from the hospital operated jointly by UTMB and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The patient evacuation was completed within approximately 11 hours with the last patient arriving in Austin just before midnight Thursday night. UTMB had released students on Wednesday, and non-essential personnel on Thursday, as well as essential personnel who were not required to ride-out the storm as evacuations were completed. The UTMB Emergency Operations Center was fully activated on Thursday morning to support the patient evacuation and finalize planning for the hurricane. Contact was established with the State Operations Center/Department of State Health Services Liaison, to keep them apprised of UTMB's status, and with the Regional Catastrophic Medical Operations Center operating at the City of Houston Emergency Operations Center. Tropical storm force winds were recorded beginning in the early evening hours of Friday, and sustained winds of 70+ miles per hour by 22:00. Storm surge and wind driven rain resulted in flooding of lower located areas of the campus by 17:00 and flooding was reported in the McCullough Building basement. Power outages and transfers to generators were reported sporadically beginning at 19:00. Water was first noticed in the lobby of John Sealy Tower by 23:00, and the first floor was cordoned off at the stairwells. At 21:45 John Sealy Annex transferred to generator power and at 23:00 the command center was relocated to the 5th floor of John Sealy Tower. At this time the tower had lost primary power and was being supported by emergency generators. By 01:45, shortly before the eye of the hurricane was over land, water was reported to be over two feet deep in the tower lobby. By 09:30 on Saturday morning the winds had diminished, and water had begun to recede. At this time a roster check revealed all personnel were accounted for and safe.
By early Saturday afternoon it was safe to venture outside and damage assessments were begun. An all-staff meeting was called for 15:00 and reports were received from police, facilities, environmental health and command personnel. Early damage assessments indicated that the flooding and interruption of essential services (domestic water, sewer and power) would mean healthcare, research and educational activities would be interrupted for an undetermined period of time. UTMB entered a "preserve and protect" mode and began the process of ordering reserve generators, pumps, chillers and electrical equipment to initiate the recovery phase.
Recovery was expected to continue for several months.
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