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Civilization’s Thin Veneer: The Evacuation of Bellevue

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The nation’s oldest public hospital—and the premier emergency institution in New York City—is the go-to place in the aftermath of a plane or train wreck, an all-out gunfight or a commercial airliner slicing through a skyscraper. Its staff has spent enormous time in preparation for the numerous scenarios—chemical, biological, nuclear—for which New York is the expected target.

Now it too has become a casualty of Sandy as the last 200 or so of the hospital’s 725 patients were being evacuated Wednesday night after fuel pumps for backup generators failed, a similar fate to what befell nearby NYU Langone Medical Center.

My colleague Larry Greenemeier pointed to the need for a fundamental reassessment of the city’s urban infrastructure after the post-posttropical storm cleanup finishes. Planning for the next time—Good Night Irene—will by necessity require taking into account public-health  preparedness.

Bellevue, the first responder for so many health-care firsts, will be at those meetings  because of its karmic history. Bellevue developed New York’s first sanitary code, a worldwide precedent. It established the first hospital catastrophe unit. The first ICU in a municipal hospital went there. The list is actually quite a bit longer.

Bellevue has always been a bulwark of tough-guy New York, ready for the unexpected. Now it needs to set a new example in preparing for the unpredictable health requirements of a densely packed populace that faces a rising tide of warming salt water that threatens to make the Big Apple a physically smaller place.


Image Source: Jim Henderson


Gary Stix About the Author: Gary Stix, a senior editor, commissions, writes, and edits features, news articles and Web blogs for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. His area of coverage is neuroscience. He also has frequently been the issue or section editor for special issues or reports on topics ranging from nanotechnology to obesity. He has worked for more than 20 years at SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, following three years as a science journalist at IEEE Spectrum, the flagship publication for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism from New York University. With his wife, Miriam Lacob, he wrote a general primer on technology called Who Gives a Gigabyte? Follow on Twitter @@gstix1.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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