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Tampa General fortifies for Ian with ‘aqua fence,’ water-tight doors

Outdoor barrier that can handle a 15-foot surge and metal doors are among defenses intended to keep the Tampa Bay region’s only Level 1 trauma center operational during a storm.
A flood barrier surrounds Tampa General Hospital in preparation for Hurricane Ian's arrival. The hospital is the region's only Level 1 trauma center.
A flood barrier surrounds Tampa General Hospital in preparation for Hurricane Ian's arrival. The hospital is the region's only Level 1 trauma center. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 28|Updated Sep. 28

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.

Ahead of Hurricane Ian, Tampa General Hospital has installed an "aqua fence" around the hospital campus to prevent flooding and storm surge damage.
Ahead of Hurricane Ian, Tampa General Hospital has installed an "aqua fence" around the hospital campus to prevent flooding and storm surge damage. [ Luis Santana ]

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.”

Related: As Ian targets Tampa Bay, hospitals, nursing homes evacuate patients

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.

Related: Track Hurricane Ian's path in Florida

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.”

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.

SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.

IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

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