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November 1st, 2012
07:16 AM ET

Learning from Sandy hospital evacuations – Dr. Irwin Redlener on working to 'imagine...everything that could go wrong' to avoid it

New Yorkers are still reeling from Superstorm Sandy. Millions of people, business and institutions are out of power, including Bellevue Hospital which started the process of moving over 700 patients after the storm caused generators failed last night. There were 260 people still to be moved today. This comes after NYU's Langone Medical Center was forced to evacuate its patients when backup generator failed during the storm on Monday night. Beth Israel is the only remaining hospital open in lower Manhattan.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, has studied how hospitals handled Hurricane Katrina. He has worked extensively to help establish on-going medical and public health programs in the Gulf region following Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Redlener joins John Berman on “Early Start” to discuss the evacuation of Bellevue and other city hospitals.

Dr. Redlener responds to how Bellevue is handling the evacuation process. “The performance by the hospital staff, the first responders, the National Guard is extraordinary,” he says. “These are exemplary performances by professionals who know what they’re doing and really do care about getting the job done right. So there’s nothing to fault about the heroism and the actions of the individuals on scene. It was tremendous.”

Berman asks Dr. Redlener how these hospitals were not more prepared. “There should have been a more detailed engineering look at how the whole system works, to make sure that not just the generator but everything that needs to feed into the generator, specifically in this case the fuel pumps, were protected from the inevitable flooding that happens in a coastal storm,” Dr. Redlener says, “especially for the hospitals in Zone A. This is just one of the things that—it fell through the cracks, but it turns out to be a critical detail.”

He advises, “You gotta imagine everything possibly that could go wrong and try to address it before it happens,” when planning for disasters.

Berman asks why this could happen after lessons should have been learned from Katrina, but Dr. Redlener says it’s hard to say. A “wake-up call” like Katrina ends up being like a “snooze alarm” and “you get a lot less focused afterwards.”

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