Hospitals Built to Withstand Tornadoes After Joplin Storm

June 22, 2018

A Missouri healthcare company says it has toughened safety requirements for construction at its hospitals since six people died at its facility in Joplin when a massive tornado ripped through the city.

Mercyhealth has prioritized securing its new hospitals with storm-resistant materials and backup generators, St. Louis Public Radio reported .

The EF-5 tornado destroyed Joplin’s St. John’s Hospital in May 2011, blowing out all the windows and hindering evacuation by knocking out lights and drywall. The tornado killed 161 people.

Photo credit: FEMA

“The whole hospital shook and vibrated as we heard glass shattering, light bulbs popping, walls collapsing, people screaming, the ceiling caving in above us, and water pipes breaking, showering water down on everything,” emergency room doctor Kevin Kitka has said of the storm.

John Farnen, Mercyhealth’s vice president of facilities, said the company used to prepare for a hospital to lose power or water, but never to lose everything like it did in Joplin.

“When we pulled up to the hospital, all the windows were blown out, there were parts of the roof that were blown off, (and) inside the hospital was exposed,” Farnen said. “The parking lot was full of cars that were just entwined together, you couldn’t even make out the models of the vehicles.”

Mercyhealth recently equipped the new wing at Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Festus with safety glass windows that can withstand winds over 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour. It has installed reinforced stairwells, battery-powered lights and windowless areas where patients can gather before a tornado hits.

The new hospital wing also houses its power sources encased in the attic instead of placing the electric equipment on the outside of the building as it was in Joplin.

“We put it inside to try to protect it better,” said Farnen. “(In Joplin) we had air-handlers and such that blew off the roof and down onto generators and equipment buildings below.”

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