The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 26, 2012

Mercy Hospital Joplin being built to weather another EF-5

New construction to be 'hardened fortress'

When St. John’s Regional Medical Center was built more than 40 years ago, it was designed to withstand fierce storms. No one ever imagined it would one day be in the path of an EF-5 tornado.

After the May 22, 2011, tornado, architects and engineers analyzed how the nine-story structure reacted to the storm. What they learned from the destruction of the medical center is being incorporated into the design of Mercy Hospital Joplin, which is under construction at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard.

“Mercy asked this question: What can we do so that this does not happen again?” said Steve Meuschke, project manager at the site.

That approach, he said, will lead to the construction of a hospital that will be a hardened fortress.

“Nobody wants to take that risk of this happening again,” Meuschke said.

Keeping Power On

When the tornado struck, 189 people were inside the medical center. Five patients and one visitor died. Others who had been patients there later died of injuries they suffered in the storm.

The five patients who died were on ventilators. Flying debris disabled the hospital’s exposed generators. When the power failed, the ventilators stopped.

Steps are being taken to ensure that the new hospital will not lose electrical power in the event of another major storm.

“The central utility plant will be away from the hospital. It will be beefed up with a hardened exterior,” Meuschke said. “It will house the emergency equipment and generators.

“A 12-foot-by-12-foot tunnel will be built underground that will connect the utility plant to the hospital. All of the utility lines leading to the hospital will be in that tunnel.”

The hospital’s two generators will be inside the reinforced bunker. The fuel tanks for the generators also will be underground. They will contain enough fuel to last four days.

In addition, Empire District Electric Co. will construct a new substation near the hospital so that the hospital can get electrical power from two sources, in case one is hit by a storm. One Empire substation was wiped out in the tornado, and six others were damaged.

Two of the new hospital’s nine floors also will be underground. That will include 14 operating rooms, shielded by concrete walls on three sides and the full length of the hospital on the fourth side.

The lower floors will serve as evacuation areas for the hospital. In the above-ground floors, safe zones with heavy-duty metal doors will be included.

The tornado shattered most, but not all, of the windows at St. John’s. The hospital’s psychiatric unit had laminated glass similar to auto safety glass, in that it cracks but doesn’t shatter on impact. It withstood the tornado’s 200-mph winds. The new hospital will have laminated glass throughout.

The windows and frames in the new hospital’s emergency department also will be impact-tested to withstand hurricane-strength winds.

The walls of the old St. John’s were made of plaster. Metal decking was used on the roof. The exterior of the new hospital will use brick or precast stone. The roof will be concrete.

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