New Hospital In Joplin, Mo., Designed With Tornadoes In Mind

May 21, 2013
Originally published on May 21, 2013 5:43 pm
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In Moore, one of the public buildings that became unusable yesterday was the local 45-bed hospital. How do you build a hospital that can sustain 200-mile-per-hour winds? Well, for the answer - we hope - we're going to turn now to Joplin, Missouri.

On May 22, 2011, a force five tornado struck Joplin. Of the more than 150 people who died as a result, six were reported inside the St. John's Mercy Regional Medical Center, which was also knocked out of commission.

Today, a new facility named Mercy Hospital Joplin is under construction, and it has been designed with a big tornado in mind. John Farnen is executive director of strategic projects with the hospital, and he joins us from Joplin. Welcome to the program.

JOHN FARNEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: I gather the three big changes in the new hospital are the roof, the siding and the glass. Let's start with the roof and the siding. What's different?

FARNEN: Well, the new hospital will have all-concrete roof structures. In the old facility, we learned that the metal with the insulation on top basically was removed by the tornado and exposed the inside of the building. So the new facility basically will have all-concrete roof structures, with a membrane glued down on it, and then basically the roof system put on that. So if we lose the roof system, we'll still have a watertight and concrete-sealed building.

SIEGEL: And the siding?

FARNEN: The siding is all a harder material, so it'll all be pre-cast concrete, which is basically reinforced concrete hung from the side of the building. And then basically it will have reinforced masonry, stone and brick, which all held up pretty good in the old facility.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about glass. How will the windows be different in this hospital?

FARNEN: All the windows in the new facility will be a safety laminated glass. We're also custom-designing glass, which will be 140-mile-an-hour-rated and 250-mile-an-hour-rated glass systems for this facility that has never been used before.

SIEGEL: So what you're doing is you have, in effect, the kind of glass windows we'd associate with a high-security building is what you're doing throughout the new hospital.

FARNEN: Yeah, correct. I think the 140 and the 250 glass both finished final testing and design last week. So the 250-mile-an-hour window gets a 15-pound 2 x 4 shot at it at 100 miles an hour, and it actually has to stop that 2 x 4 from penetrating, and that's the test criteria that we wrote for these systems.

SIEGEL: Electricity. How have you guaranteed that the new building will be less likely to lose power than the old hospital?

FARNEN: Well, the old hospital had generator systems that were outside, so there's a lot of debris that flew off the roofs and stuff that actually hit the equipment and kind of put it out of commission.

So the new facility, we are building a reinforced utility plant that will house all of the critical utilities. So basically the generator systems will be in there. They will actually run to the existing hospital underground through a tunnel, and then up through the core of the building, which should hopefully protect those utilities.

SIEGEL: How expensive a project is building this hospital, and how much of that expense reflects making it tornado-proof?

FARNEN: Actually, the construction cost of the project is about 350 million, and I would say that the hardening that we're doing that is above and beyond, you know, the normal Mercy standards is maybe around 3 percent.

SIEGEL: $10 million perhaps. Something like that?

FARNEN: Yeah. That's pretty close.

SIEGEL: There was a Mercy facility - a work in progress - that was hit by the tornado in Oklahoma yesterday. Nationwide, does the experience of the tornado say, who knows, it could be - you could be building in the path of a hurricane or a nor'easter, make every hospital built to the standards you've been working on in Joplin. Does that make sense to the group or is this for Tornado Alley?

FARNEN: Well, I certainly think that makes sense to the group. I think there are some hurricane standards already. If you live down in Florida, in that area, there are materials made for hurricanes that they actually use. And I'm sure in time the codes will require more substantial work be done on some of these facilities whether you're in Tornado Alley or in a hurricane area.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Farnen, thank you very much for talking with us about the hospital you're working on in Joplin, Missouri.

FARNEN: OK. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's John Farnen, who is executive director of strategic projects for the Mercy Hospital Joplin in Joplin, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.