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MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


When bad weather comes, preparation is key

By Cindy Abole
Public Relations
When Hurricane Hugo ripped through the Lowcountry more than 21 years ago, the Charleston area felt the effects of wind gusts of up to 140 mph, driving rain and five-foot tidal surges that led to the evacuation of more than 120,000 people.

MUSC’s campus sustained more than $33 million in damage that flooded buildings, disabled equipment and property.

More than two decades later, MUSC’s campus has recovered and thrived, while construction inspectors and project managers have learned and taken valuable lessons from these events. MUSC’s skyline has grown and is now dotted with a number of new buildings and facilities reflecting progress. At the Drug Discovery and Bioengineering building construction site, work crews are operating business-as-usual so far this hurricane season thanks to early preparation, collaborative planning and new technology.

“Our goal is early preparation and effective communications as a way to minimize any potential for damage,” said Wade Gatlin, project manager and architect with MUSC Engineering and Facilities. “All of the building components work together to prevent intrusion of the elements; so until the buildings are totally enclosed, they are highly vulnerable to storm damage.”

During hurricane season, lead contractor Brasfield and Gorrie collaborate with MUSC departments to provide a safe enviroment before and after a storm. MUSC’s Drug Discovery and Bioengineering building project is expected to be completed in late 2011.

Gatlin is part of a hurricane action team that works closely with lead project construction company, Brasfield and Gorrie, LLC, and their hurricane officer Justin Rannick, Brasfield and Gorrie’s on-site senior project manager. “We’re all holding our breaths and crossing our fingers until hurricane season is over” Gatlin said.
Charleston and coastal South Carolina follow the Atlantic hurricane season, June 1 through Nov. 30.
According to Gatlin and Rannick, preparation is key from the time architects draw the plans to the start of construction and events throughout the project’s timeline. All new construction is governed by the International Building Code, according to Gatlin. MUSC’s Drug Discovery and Bioengineering buildings are designed and constructed to withstand 130 mph wind gusts. Structural engineers also designed the buildings to sustain lateral loads caused by hurricanes and earthquakes. Both buildings must meet additional and stringent code requirements due to the importance the building code places upon laboratory buildings.

“Wind forces act unevenly across a building’s surface,” explained Gatlin. “The greatest force occurs at the corners and roof level, so windows and roofing have to be designed for the maximum wind forces exerted on the building.”

It is Rannick’s and the Brasfield and Gorrie Hurricane Action team’s job to monitor weather and any hurricane or severe weather (50 mph or more) advisories announced by the National Weather Service. The team meets each week to discuss project safety and review action plans as part of project readiness.
Rannick and his team follow their company’s own five-level alert system and hurricane emergency action plan (HEAP) during a weather emergency. HEAP is part of the company’s safety policy adopted for projects on the southeastern coast. At the start of each project, the hurricane officer and project safety partner sit down and review and adaptthe plan to the scope and timeline of the project.

The plan is activated about three days in advance of a hurricane warning. That’s when project inspection teams prepare and secure the construction site. Within 48-to-24 hours of warning, work crews board windows, remove debris and document the project’s status. Within 12 hours of a storm, the site is secured and workers are evacuated until an “all clear” signal is announced and a return-to-work notice is issued by the hurricane officer. After the storm, hurricane teams inspect and secure the construction site and conduct follow up.

“Much of what we do and how we respond is really no different than what an individual or single family can do with their own preparations. My best advice to individuals and families is to communicate, create a plan early and stick to it,” said Gatlin.

Templates for the MUSC’s research community for organizing hurricane preparedness plans may be downloaded at

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.