Sandy didn't hit me hard. My neighborhood was barely touched. Schools have been closed and my work place has been closed but my neighborhood lost no power or water, and most businesses opened up soon after the hurricane. Some were open DURING the hurricane. So in some ways I have had a nice little vacation, though I have been working at home to some degree analyzing data. But overall it has been low key and to me Sandy was less intense and impressive than Irene.
I also spent one day helping a friend in the Rockaways, which really drove home how bad the hurricane was. But until today I wasn't able to get into work at the NYU Medical Center both because of subways being down and the Medical Center being down.
Well today the trains were running and I went in to see what I could get done. I needed to pick up more data I'd already acquired on the microscope to analyze at home and to start getting my experiments up and running again.
Now I have seen the same reports you all have about the closing of the Medical Center but again it didn't sink in what it all meant until I was there. More below.
I have been affiliated with the NYU Medical Center for most of the past 14 years. During that time I have to say it has improved a great deal. It always has had good research, though even that has improved from excellent to stellar. At the in house seminars and retreats I am always really impressed with the quality of research. Even some departments that were mediocre before have undergone changes that improved the quality of research hugely. I am not that familiar with the quality of medical care though I have known patients that have gone through Bellevue hospital and I do know several physicians who work at the medical center and in general think it is good. My own health care there has been excellent. The administration used to suck. I once had to essentially go on strike before they actually gave me a promised benefit and I found another benefit was essentially a bait and switch. But from what I can tell that has changed and the administration seems much better. They even have started giving additional benefits in response to employee demands and doing so in a quality way.
So overall it is an excellent medical center.
Sandy hit it hard. All along the East River flooding from the storm surge shut down facilities. The main campus around 30th Street, Bellevue Hospital and the VA hospital all are heavily damaged in the basements. Not structurally, but in terms of facilities: water, power, back up power, animal facilities, deliveries...all shut down by flooding. That closes down some of the best research being done in the world today in addition to the patient care.
Some of my friends have been part of the teams that have been saving patients, saving stocks, saving experiments and even heading to other facilities helping other labs. And all this while living in a building that STILL has no power or water. Many of these people have been showering at a nearby gym. So many people have been working so hard to limit the damage and get things up and running ASAP.
What happened? I have read in the media and on dKos lots of reports and questions about what happened. Why didn't they evacuate earlier? Why were so many critical facilities in the basement? Some politicians have expressed anger at NYU for what happened. But bottom line is it is hard to see how this could have been avoided.
There were vulnerabilities in the system. But they were designed to withstand pretty much anything that historically have hit Manhattan. This storm was a "once-in-a-hundred years" event, though climate change is shifting this to a once in maybe 5-20 years event. Which is a sobering lesson. Fuck Republican denial...climate change is biting us in the ass and the MAIN reason why the NYU Medical Center seemed unprepared is that it was prepared for pre-climate change conditions and we are in a climate change reality right now. Which, to echo Mayor Bloomberg, is why we have to defeat the Republicans BIG TIME. Because every Republican elected will reduce our ability to be prepared for events like this.
The storm surge was huge for Manhattan...biggest I hear in 200 years though it will likely happen again within the next 20 years at least once thanks to climate change and Republican refusal to do anything about it. That is one reason why things went wrong for the medical center.
The medical center was holding up fine at first. Then came the storm surge. This hit the basements harder than expected. Rooms that should have been okay were breached and since they are still flooded, the reasons aren't even clear yet. Once the breach happened, it happened fast. I heard similar stories in the Rockaways. When a basement started flooding, it happened fast...sometimes so fast that people can't get out and that is how some people died in the Rockaways.
People were actually in the process of handling some of the crises in the basements of the medical center buildings when the surge surged in and these people had to run. This surge hit critical facilities that then collapsed in a domino effect. The number of things that went wrong ended up being quite large.
Why are critical facilities in the basement? There are several reasons for this. First off, lab and patient facilities take precedence and facilities that are less people-oriented are often put in the basement. Deliveries, animal facilities, fuel tanks, storage, steam pipes, etc. Second, that is how it has generally been done in the past. Some of the buildings affected are older (not all!) and so have out dated facilities. Updating facilities like that takes time and money and, being on the board of my co-op apt. building has taught me that making those decisions is tough and no matter how carefully you plan, something unexpected will defeat you from time to time. Updating is happening but can't be done all in one shot. Finally, some facilities are easiest to build, maintain and service in the basement. Building them elsewhere would be impractical or even dangerous. So I don't think there was anything done wrong per se by the medical center, though it is likely that some lessons will be learned and changes made as practical to better plan for events like this as they become more common.
I also want to emphasize that the administration at the medical center is working hard to support their staff. They are feeding students, post docs and staff, particularly ones who are stuck in housing without power and water. They are working hard to get money to labs quickly to replace lost materials and get research up and running again. Clinical trials interrupted by the hurricane and pharmacy services are taking precedence. Psychological services for staff and students are being put into place. The staff, students and faculty are working together as a team to help wherever they can. That said, there is frustration, particularly over lack of running water...which has made bathrooms pretty awful. But overall people are doing everything they can.
I have heard that some animal rights groups are getting all crazy about the damage to the animal facilities. What they are ignoring is the fact that these animal facilities and the animals contained therein are extremely valuable to researchers and people worked their asses off to save them. Some people lost decades worth of hard work when they lost their animal stocks. And the truth is almost all the animal facilities were rescued. It was only in the building where the storm surge broke in too fast that the animals were lost. To have the terrible loss to critical cancer, heart disease, immune etc research be exploited by animal rights groups is disgusting. I have some appreciation for some animal rights efforts, and their efforts have had positive effects on HOW animal research is conducted. But to exploit a disaster like this for their own propaganda and to try and paint researchers as terrible people is just plain wrong. I am lucky. I work on worms...these are tough beasts and I expect to only lose maybe a few weeks or a month's worth of work due to the hurricane. But some people have lost years worth of very important work. My heart goes out to them. Fortunately the scientific community around the world is reaching out to help. This is despite some degree of competition among labs.
Subway ride this morning was slow and crowded. Coming home it was pretty normal. But it is just nice to be able to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan again.
I will not be going in to work tomorrow. I may try to get out to the Rockaways again. But I am glad I went in. This time I don't think I helped, but it did help me understand the situation better.
And once again, please, please please, let's all do one last push to defeat the Republicans who are causing SO MUCH DAMAGE to America and the world.