First-person account of emergency hospital evacuation in NYC after Sandy power outage

Image: CBS News

One of the focal points of the storm emergency in New York City last night was New York University's Langone Medical Center: the hospital's main and backup power generators all failed, and hospital staff had to evacuate patients as power resources faded. All but 50 patients have been evacuated, and the remaining 50 are due to be transferred this morning. Those patients included 20 prematurely-born newborn babies who were in intensive care. This morning, CBS News has a first-person account from Dr. Jonathan LaPook, a CBS News medical correspondent (also a board-certified physician in internal medicine and gastroenterology).

Many patients were too sick to walk down the narrow staircase to the lobby. They were painstakingly carried on plastic sleds - one by one - by teams of four to five people from as high up as the 17th floor. I went to several of the floors with Dr. Mark Pochapin, the director of the Division of Gastroenterology at NYU. He was one of a team of people making sure that communication flowed and that everybody was accounted for. The intensive care unit was already evacuated when I arrived. Lit only by my flashlight, filled with crumpled blankets and other evidence of a hasty retreat, it appeared eerie to me - like a scene in a movie where a cup of still-warm-coffee tells the detective that somebody had been a room only minutes before. But this was undeniably real life and the clock was ticking as the team of workers raced to evacuate the patients.

Read more: "Inside NYC hospital's near disaster during Sandy" (CBS This Morning)


  1. I looks like their backup system was poorly designed or/and done on the cheap.   I sure hope everyone will be okay.

    1.  Best bet I have is they just never tested it. Lots of places have fancy backup systems (for anything from data to power) that they never make sure would actually work as intended. Ideally you should be powering up the generators regularly to test their ability to start quickly, and (once you’re fairly sure they start and work properly) pulling the plug on the outside power to make sure they can actually handle the load.

      1. The article notes that there were two generators. One on a lower floor failed and then a pump to transfer fuel to the one on the roof failed. I wonder why they didn’t have a day tank on the roof and a manual way to pump. That doesn’t make sense.

      2. Yeah when I worked on traffic operations we had a PLC which just cut the mains for an hour every three weeks. You don’t want diesel fuel sitting around for years anyway.

    2. I’ve worked with these people occasionally.  Every bit of their infrastructure that I’ve encountered is extremely expensive, overly featureful, and poorly designed and integrated.

  2. When the Loma Prieta quake hit San Francisco in 1989, I was working at UCSF.  Although the staff was well-trained to handle a large earthquake, the panjandrums had neglected to check to see if there were emergency power sources in their designated command center.  Very embarrassing.

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