Acute Care

When Disaster Strikes: Designing For Seismic Survival

Posted by Jennifer Kovacs Silvis | February 28, 2019

This article is part of an expanded online version of “When Disaster Strikes,” a special report on designing for resiliency and disaster preparedness that was first published in the March 2019 issue of Healthcare Design. 

Mat-Su Regional Medical Center is a replacement hospital in Palmer, Alaska, completed in 2006 to serve the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the fastest-growing region in the state. It includes emergency, surgery, endoscopy, and radiology services as well as 100 inpatient beds and a 10-bed obstetrics department. The project design team from E4H Environments for Health Architecture  was challenged with responding to numerous conditions unique to the site, most importantly its location between two distinct fault lines where seismic events are recorded on a daily basis.

The project was finished to meet Seismic Design Category D requirements, the category used to classify buildings in geographic areas that are expected to experience “severe and destructive” ground shaking but not located near a major fault line (Mat-Su’s fault lines weren’t considered major).Those requirements were put to the test on the morning of Nov. 30, 2018, when the region was hit with a 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

Due to these standards being in place, the facility experienced only minimal cosmetic damage. For example, a small amount of floor tiles inside the facility cracked. The interior non-structural systems and assemblies were anchored in such a way that during an earthquake they would absorb or counteract the movement that the earthquake transfers to them.

The building envelope was finished to withstand 120 MPH winds and driven snow. The paint, for example, was selected for its shell-like components to protect the façade. This allowed it to survive the quake with just hairline cracks.

Additional design strategies included the use of huge mat-type foundations, 40-foot-by-40-foot squares made of 3,000 psi concrete ranging from 48 to 60 inches thick, which acted as super-sized spread footings. Each one anchored up to four continuously vertical concrete shear walls, depending on orientation, to create a monolithic structure capable of transferring and dispersing significant forces to the ground.

Other resilient components included in the development of the hospital were systems for well water, pumps, and storage for fire water and potable water, as the hospital’s remotely location meant that utilities could potentially be unavailable for unknown periods of time. The standalone facility is capable of generating power, as well, that’s independent of municipal systems.

Thanks to these solutions, the hospital was able to see 117 people in its emergency room on the day of the earthquake and remained fully operational.—Adam Hillman, associate, E4H Environments for Health Architecture (Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas)

To read the full special report, “When Disaster Strikes,” go here