New VA hospital in New Orleans is built to survive disasters

Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System Image: NBBJ(U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed a New Orleans Veterans Affairs hospital, the new replacement facility—a model for storm preparedness—has finally opened.

The 1.7 million-square foot facility takes into account the lessons learned by Katrina, which took the hospital out of service when two feet of water flooded its basement and knocked out its backup generator, according to Fast Company.

Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System's generator and other critical electronics are located on a much higher floor. The emergency department is also on the second floor, accessible from a ramp that can also serve as a boat launch in case of a severe flood. The exterior walls can withstand not only a category 3 storm, but blasts, ramming and even assaults from projectiles.

And should a part of the hospital be destroyed or collapsed, it won't cause other parts of the structure to collapse, the article noted.

"It’s unfortunate, but right now the maps where we draw the extent of vulnerable areas are expanding, and areas that weren’t considered vulnerable before, are," Ryan Hullinger, a principal at NBBJ, the architecture firm that designed the facility, told Fast Company. "These techniques are going to be needed in more and more hospitals."

Indeed, only three hospitals remained functioning after Katrina, and several of the city's facilities were out of commission for two years or more. Some have never been rebuilt.

Five years after the hurricane, about a fifth of the residents of New Orleans had to drive 30 minutes or more to reach the nearest hospital emergency room.