Summary of Summer Research

By John Sanders

July 2001


I am working on the hospital mitigation study at the Disaster Research Center (DRC) located at the University of Delaware, in Newark. DRC is trying to identify impediments that communities and health care facility owner/operators must overcome before undertaking the rehabilitation of existing structures and systems that are vulnerable to seismic events.

Hospitals play a large role in their surrounding community before, during, and after a community-wide disaster.The manner in which the hospital performs has very significant consequences for life safety.The public expects hospitals that provide emergency care to remain operational following earthquakes and other disasters.

Each health care facility in the United States is required by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health organizations (JCAHO) to have a disaster plan and to hold two drills each year.These plans include both mass causality incidents and internal disasters.Although this is taken very seriously by the hospitals, these plans can and often do overlook serious potential hazards, leaving them exposed and vulnerable.

†††††††††††††† DRC addressed the issue of hospital functionality and hospital seismic loss reduction strategies by conducting focus groups in eleven acute-care hospitals in settings that vary in their level of seismic risk: greater Los Angeles, the New York City area, and Western Tennessee.The hospitals also vary in size and ownership status (public, non-profit, for profit). The focus groups the DRC staff organized were composed of hospital personnel having major responsibility for risk decision-making and emergency management.

†††††††††††† An interview guide was used to obtain information on (1) participantsí rankings of the importance of structural and nonstructural elements and functional areas in their hospitals; (2) seismic risk perceptions; (3) loss reduction measures hospitals had adopted. The focus group interview also included a questionnaire in which group members rated the relative importance of various hospital systems, assigning each system a numerical value.

Using the quantitative data collected as part of the questionnaire, I determined what each hospital considered to be important and vital to remain functional in the case of a disaster in both internal physical systems and structural elements. I relate these views to what happened in Houston during and after Tropical Storm Allison struck. On June, 5th 2001 9 of Houstonís 30 hospitals were partially closed or evacuated because of a variety of storm-related damage. I also looked at some of the financial costs associated with the damage to measure it against data on preventive costs. Hopefully through the knowledge gained in this study and in future studies, disasters such as these may be averted in the future.

Participating in research at the DRC I am able to work alongside others researching various disaster related topics.This allows all to have collaboration in data sharing, providing a stronger base to work.The Centerís work on the hospitals and how the public perceives hospitals is one example.The DRC also houses a wealth of information regarding almost any conceivable type of disaster.The journals and other bound papers give me access to discoveries of what others have already found, preventing me from having to reinvent the wheel during the research process.

One very important issue that was stressed is that of research ethics and confidentiality.This issue was discussed in-depth upon my arrival and before I started my first task, transcribing a brief review of one of the focus groups.