Hospital Vulnerability to Hurricane Harvey in Harris County, Texas

Authors: Emmanuelle Hines*, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colleen Reid, University of Colorado, Boulder
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: hospital, healthcare, Texas, Hurricane Harvey, vulnerability, flooding, emergency preparedness
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Hospitals should be capable of delivering both day-to-day and emergency services at surge capacity during extreme weather events, but flooding is known to cause complications with power generation, provision of clean water, patient safety, communication, and hospital access. The sudden arrival of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas coast served as a reminder that no comprehensive study of Harris County’s healthcare system vulnerability to extreme flooding events had yet been conducted. This study first completed a geospatial analysis comparing which hospitals were at risk of flooding pre-Harvey with the true flooding impacts post-Harvey. The mapping results revealed inconsistencies between the predicted and observed hospital flooding, perhaps reflecting nuances in hospital adaptation efforts that are not captured by mapping alone and necessitating an in-depth qualitative approach. A narrative was then constructed detailing Harris County hospitals' collective experience with Hurricane Harvey and the lessons learned in the aftermath of the storm, through a survey of hospital emergency managers, semi-structured interviews with local organizations involved in public health and emergency management, and an analysis of the media. Evaluation of the hospitals’ emergency responses to Hurricane Harvey revealed well-coordinated efforts guided by past experience with extreme flooding (i.e., Hurricane Allison) and a strong regional coalition; however, the adoption of additional flood adaptation measures and further planning is still advisable in preparation for future flooding events. Results from this study contribute to efforts aimed at improving critical healthcare infrastructure to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from future flooding events like Hurricane Harvey.

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