Healthcare campus hurricane resiliency: How did we do?

Let’s look at how our resiliency measures in Galveston performed during Hurricane Harvey.

The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston is UT’s school of medicine, nursing, and allied health sciences. At 125 years, it’s the oldest academic health center in the state. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike flooded over one million square feet of campus buildings to depths of six feet, damaging the power and utility distribution systems, leaving much of it a total loss. Affiliated Engineers helped UTMB secure FEMA funding, and then planned, designed, and supervised simultaneous improvements in engineered resiliency and operational efficiency.

The recovery and approach to improving resiliency consisted of three steps: replacing a buried steam distribution heating system with a more efficient district hot water system; elevating utility plants or protecting them with floodwalls; and, providing on-site power generation using combined heat and power.

When Hurricane Harvey reached landfall on August 25, 2017, (reference diagram below) the East Plant (A) – elevated approximately 15 feet above grade – had been in normal operations for just over a year. The West Plant (B) floodwall was complete, but the 7.5 MW combined heat and power plant was still in the commissioning phase thus not yet in operation. The upgraded piping system replacement (C) was completely installed and the campus-wide conversion of all buildings from steam service to heating hot water was between 95% and 99% complete.

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UTMB campus map of construction progress by the time Hurrican Harvey reached landfall in 2017.

For the duration of Hurricane Harvey, the East Plant maintained normal operation. UTMB got a transfer trip signal from the local utility and they ran the East Plant in island mode. Because commissioning on the combined heat and power system in the West Plant hadn’t been completed, UTMB decided not to run it. Protected by the flood wall gates, the West Plant chillers ran throughout the storm using utility power supply. The heating hot water system maintained campus-wide operations.

There was no significant impact on the institution. They maintained campus operations. They sent home their students and the administrative staff, but the research buildings remained in operation and the clinical buildings accepted patients throughout the duration of the event. All systems appeared to operate and function normally. The client seems very happy.

The West Plant CHP achieved substantial completion in December 2017, approximately 90 days after Harvey hit the Texas coast. This major milestone was the final chapter in addressing Infrastructure improvements associated with the Hurricane Ike recovery project. These resiliency improvements to the UTMB Galveston campus will serve as the cornerstone to campus response efforts for hurricane seasons to come.

Hurricane Harvey was the costliest tropical cyclone on record, causing roughly $150 – $180 billion in damage, primarily on its path from Galveston to the Houston metropolitan area, where flooding was widespread.