DAVIS ISLANDS — While some of the region’s hospitals located in evacuation zones closed ahead of Hurricane Ian, that’s not an option for Tampa General Hospital.
The hospital is the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, a designation that means it provides a specialized and expensive level of care for serious injuries like severe burns, gunshot wounds and cuts. It’s also the main destination for Hillsborough County first responders ferrying patients who may be injured in the storm.
So the hospital, which is licensed for more than 1,000 beds, has deployed an array of defenses against possible flooding and hopes to remain fully operational during Hurricane Ian.
That includes deployment of an “aqua fence,” a water impermeable barrier that stretches around the hospital campus.
“This fence is part of our emergency management tools to mitigate risk and keep our teams and patients safe,” the hospital said in a statement. “This protection element is expected to hold back water that has a surge of up to 15 feet above sea level.”
Tampa General is located on Davis Islands and within Hillsborough County’s evacuation zone A. By road, the area is only accessible by two bridges.
Ian is a Category 4 with top winds of 155 mph — only 2 mph short of a Category 5 — and is pushing a storm surge that could damage the Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay region.
In the past 15 years, the hospital has made other major investments to remain operational during storms.
The hospital is equipped with submarine doors, 6-inch-thick metal barrier doors with inflatable bladders that create watertight seals below. Its electrical, air conditioning and other critical systems were relocated to floors 25 feet above ground.
“This is going to be the test right here,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said when asked about the hospital during a Tuesday news conference. “They aren’t evacuating anyone at this point (because) they have systems in place. ... They’re comfortable that they can protect their patients.”
The hospital is observing hurricane protocols that include having sufficient medical staff on site throughout the storm, ensuring adequate water supply and conducting backup generator power checks.
“Our emergency management teams train year-round for storms along with our state and county partners,” the hospital said in a statement. “The emergency power system is fueled and ready.”
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
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SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
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INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.