Superstorm Sandy Tests Hospital Preparedness

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Although the patients have been successfully relocated, the NYU Langone website, email and phone lines remain down today.

"It surprises me that NYU could be knocked out by water in the basement," said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "You expect that, with a flood, water will go to the basement, so you can't put all your backup power there."

All accredited U.S. hospitals are required to have backup generators in the event of a power failure, according to Ron Dziedzicki chief support service officer for UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

"We have 17 generators and four fuel tanks… The maximum amount of time we've run on generators is 72 hours without a refuel," said Dziedzicki, describing how the generators are raised to prevent flooding from nearby Lake Erie and dispersed across the 35-acre campus.

As Sandy moves inland, Dziedzicki is bracing for possible power outages. But he said he's prepared, thanks to monthly maintenance checks.

"You never know when weather's going to come," he said, describing the regular drill of switching over to backup power for an hour and keeping diesel fuel tanks topped up. If an outage were to outlast the stored fuel, UH Case Medical Center has a "memorandum of understanding" with a fuel supplier.

But even if the backup generators are working properly, the switch over can cause a 10-second lapse in power to lifesaving equipment like ventilators and bypass machines, according to Dziedzicki. At UH Case Medical Center, they have it down to five seconds, he added.

It's unclear whether NYU had additional generators and fuel storage tanks that were unable to meet the hospital's energy needs, which vary with the number of patients and the type of care they need. The hospital discharged roughly 600 patients Friday to "reduce [the] patient load," according to a spokeswoman. But Monday night's emergency evacuation has raised questions about the hospital's emergency planning.

"You never want to be in a situation like NYU faced last night where you have to evacuate during a storm," Besser said.

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