“I’ll take you up and show you the loading dock area here, because it’s pretty impressive to see how deep the water was when the flood occurred.”
Robert Emery is in charge of safety at the University of Texas Health Medical School in the Texas Medical Center. His job is to protect people and equipment when the next big storm hits.
“Stop right over there and look. See that line right across there. That’s how high the water was. That’s 33 ft from that line down to the ground.”
In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison flooded the bottom floors of the medical school causing more than $87 million in damage. A year later a number of mammoth water-tight doors were installed to make sure it never happens again.
“There are 23 flood doors like this, like these submarine doors here, and you’ll see they’re quite large and quite heavy. But what we’ll do is we’ll close each one of these. They have a pneumatic seal on them. We’ll pump those up and we can actually monitor the pressure in those seals for an hour.”
Claire Brunson heads the management services department at UT Houston and recalls how the water wreaked havoc during Allison.
“My office did have about 15 inches of water in it. So we had to come back the following week and start picking things up, and throwing things away, and saving what we could, and getting rid of almost everything.”
Many of the buildings though out the Med Center buildings now have flood prevention doors. Emery says they can be shut in just a few seconds. They’re made to keep the water outside, where the landscaping is designed to channel the water to pumps.
“Right out here we have a berm. It looks decorative where there’s a set of stairs build over it, but actually it’s a berm that surrounds the building. And then underneath us here is a series of sumps and pits that if water gets past these berms, it can get pumped out. The exterior of the wall here, you’ll notice how its different about 5 feet up, because that’s actually aquarium sealed walls and glass for the building. Then we walk over here. You can see the actual flood doors on the inside. So it’s got three layers of protection on the building.”
Emery says they test the doors each year to make sure they’re working properly and the right people know how to use them. He says they’ve had to close a few of them a few times in recent years, but thankfully Houston hasn’t seen anything like what happened more than a decade ago.