Years have passed since the emergency rescue efforts and the daunted task of rebuilding the Gulf Coast in response to hurricane Katrina. From rebuilding lives, homes, and hospitals, to restoring basic city infrastructure, the picture of the hurricane impacted region is much like a mosaic of reconstruction needs.
One dimension of Katrina’s aftermath is the flood of difficult decisions, such as whether or not to rebuild certain facilities, sometimes pitting politics with practicality. In the balance of such decisions are often the needs and livelihoods of thousands of Americans. One case in point was the agonizing decision by government officials whether or not to reopen a sorely needed and severely damaged Department of Defense (DOD) hospital and research facility located in New Orleans, LA. After all, the facility was outdated and about due for replacement, casting doubts on its long-term value.
After weeks with no building support systems and high heat and humidity, the resulting environmental conditions at the facility – from decaying research animal carcasses to hazardous chemicals and widespread mold – were growing worse by the day. The murky mess had to be cleaned up and the fate of the building decided.
With a myriad of complicated engineering and environmental issues to deal with at this major medical facility, government officials called upon prime contractor, Leo A Daly (LAD) company to lead a rapid response team to the site to assess conditions and provide needed expertise. On the team was AMI Environmental (AMI), an environmental health and safety firm who was responsible for ensuring the health and safety of anyone entering the site. Specialist on the team from LAD included an architect and electrical, mechanical and structural engineers. The environmental health and safety (EH&S) team from AMI included a certified industrial hygienist (CIH), inspectors and health and safety personnel.
One of the immediate challenges for the team was establishing a base of operations, as well as basic lodging accommodations. As was widely reported in the media, hotels in the region were either uninhabitable or filled with displaced victims. With lodging and essential services unavailable, the team operated for the first few days from an isolated space in the hospital setup by the facility’s lead engineer. The hospital’s facility management team made the space livable with power from a generator. Ultimately, two fully-equipped 32-foot camper trailers were mobilized to the site to serve as the environmental health and safety (EH&S) project office and living quarters for onsite personnel. Around the clock security was provided by the hospital.