Randy Smith, job superintendent for Rollins LLC, and Columbus Regional Hospital Vice President of Business Development and Outpatient Services Kurt Ellis watch a section of flood wall rising in front of water from a fire hose at Columbus Regional Hospital. The demonstration showed how the self-raising flood wall reduces the danger of the facility ever being flooded again by nearby Haw Creek. Rollins is the contractor that built the wall. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
COLUMBUS — Like a traffic cop raising his hand and ordering a car to stop, the flood gate at Columbus Regional Hospital raised and halted a torrent of water.
A public testing of one of the hospital's flood gates Friday afternoon showed how the the building would be protected in case of a flood similar to the June 2008 event, which caused $171 million in damage to CRH and forced the facility to close for about four months.
A $4.7 million flood wall now surrounds the hospital, and flood gates are located at each pedestrian and vehicle entrance.
"I wasn't surprised (that it worked), but I was relieved," said Dave Lenart, director of facilities and materials management for Columbus Regional Health.
The emotion is understandable, since he was heavily involved with the cleanup and repairs to the hospital. On June 7, 2008, floodwaters from Haw Creek entered the low-lying loading dock, flooded the entire basement and rose about 6 inches above the first floor. All patients had to be evacuated and transported to other hospitals.
After Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed the hospital for roughly $67 million of the damages, it mandated construction of the flood wall as a measure of protection against future flood damage.
FEMA paid for about 75 percent of the flood wall's cost with CRH paying the remaining 25 percent.
The flood wall protects the hospital and also provides a dry space for safe evacuation. CRH's helipad is located in the dry space.
Construction began in June 2011. The flood wall was finished about two months ago and the last flood gate was installed about a month ago, said Steve Thomas, CRH's director of facilities, planning and construction.
The flood wall surrounds the hospital at a height of 2 feet above the 100-year flood level established by FEMA.
The wall is made up of 8 inches of limestone covered with a brick façade, which matches the hospital's exterior
The wall varies in height moving south to north on the hospital campus because of an elevation difference.
Flood gates are a 3-inch combination of a steel decking platform and aluminum, Lenart said. The aluminum is "like an insulated boat hull. It floats," he said.
Flood gates are activated when water fills an underground basin. "They're really a simple device," Thomas said.
Members of Indianapolis-based Rollins Construction, which built the wall, pointed a fire hose at the basin next to the third-largest flood gate and unleashed about 7,800 gallons of water in about 19 minutes.
As the basin filled, the wall slowly rose until it snapped into a fixed, 90-degree position, prompting cheers and clapping from a small group of onlookers. With a temporary wall erected on the opposite side of the basin, to prevent the water from pouring into the parking lot during the test, the result was similar to filling a small pool.
"It looks like it should work," said City Engineer Dave Hayward, while getting an up-close view of the erected gate. "I hope we never need it... It sure is good to know the hospital is protected."
Friday's result was the same as Thursday's private test of the same gate, and the test of a smaller gate at a pedestrian entrance two weeks ago, Thomas said.
"In terms of flood protection, we're protected," Thomas said.
Testing of 17 pumps that remove water from the hospital grounds still must be conducted, Thomas said, but by the end of the month the entire wall protection system will be live.
Annual testing of the flood gates is necessary to make sure they are functioning properly, Thomas said, but otherwise nothing else needs to be done.
CRH has taken other steps to protect the hospital from future flooding, including filling in the loading dock, which was the entry point for the floodwaters.
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