In August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina brought the full force of its winds down on New Orleans, the lights went out at Memorial Medical Center.
As temperatures skyrocketed, there was no fresh water.
When rescuers reached the hospital after the disaster, they carried away 45 corpses.
On Thursday night, Stan Thompson, facilities director at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, told the Kodiak City Council how the island’s hospital is better prepared than ever to survive a major disaster, thanks to an innovative new water purification system.
The hospital has long had emergency generators, but until Katrina hit, water was farther down the priority list for emergency preparation. Now, Kodiak’s hospital is the first in the state with a comprehensive emergency water system.
“If we were to have an earthquake and we lost our main water line coming off the hill, we’d have zero water coming to the populace of Kodiak,” Thompson said. “Water is a very, very critical resource. It really became apparent during Katrina.”
Kodiak’s hospital has long been planned as a rally point should the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake — benchmark for all disaster planning — repeat itself.
The hospital is above the 1964 tsunami line, is seismically reinforced and is stocked with survival supplies. Until recently, however, its ability to supply clean water was somewhat limited.
That was a concern, particularly given that Kodiak’s water treatment plant on Spruce Cape is directly on the 1964 tsunami’s high-water line.
“Given our isolation here in Kodiak, we have to plan on being self-sufficient,” Thompson said.
After Katrina, Thompson began searching for a water solution, but without much luck. The options were either too expensive, too complicated or too big for a hospital the size of Kodiak’s.
Then, on a simple Google search, he stumbled across Noah Water Systems, a company that supplies water filtration for missionary groups headed to Africa or Asia.
For about $30,000 in grant funding, Thompson was able to buy and install a system capable of providing 26 gallons per minute of clean water regardless of any diesel, sewage or other chemicals that might be flooding the area after a tsunami.
“I was actually very surprised,” said Andy Terhune, founder of Noah Water Systems about the call from Kodiak.
Until Thompson started asking about filtration, Terhune’s company hadn’t marketed to hospitals.
“Our roots are with the missionary community,” he said. “That was and remains a big part of our business.”
Terhune’s initial design was a one-gallon purifier that fit into a hard-sided briefcase. As he refined the design over the last decade, he built a larger unit for disaster relief.
While most hospital-grade emergency water systems run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Terhune said he’s been able to save money in his design by limiting it to fresh water.
“We made the decision early on that we were going to deal with only non saltwater sources,” he said. “And when you do that, you uncomplicate it to a great degree.”
That uncomplication means the filtration system in Kodiak’s hospital fits into two portable, 4x4-foot boxes.
Thompson ran the system through its paces with water from Lilly Lake and tested the results at Kodiak’s water treatment plant. The water sample passed.
After some plumbing work, Thompson connected the purifier to the hospital’s water system and turned off the taps of the city’s water system.
Even at peak load, with the hospital’s showers, laundry and taps running, the purifier kept up, drawing from a 500-gallon water tank Thompson installed.
In an emergency, Thompson says that tank can be topped up with any water available, whether from tankers that normally dump water on roads, or pumped from a lake.
Whatever water the hospital doesn’t use would be available to the rest of Kodiak. “We would actually be able to provide (water) as long as they bring their own containers,” he said. “It appears that we’ve solved it.”
Thompson will present the results of the hospital’s work at the state’s fall 2012 preparedness conference in Anchorage. He predicts that other hospitals and groups around the state will follow Kodiak’s example.
“I called to see if I could buy stock,” he said.