‘Code grey’ alert, sandbags as flood barriers: How UAE hospitals kept running in heavy rain

Flooded roads did impact the turn-around time to transport patients to hospitals, but the medical staff was up to the task


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Wed 17 Apr 2024, 5:50 PM

Last updated: Thu 18 Apr 2024, 10:24 AM

When heavy rain and flooding brought most parts of the UAE to its knees, critical facilities like hospitals, mostly located in prime areas, were also impacted. However, healthcare centres rose to the challenge with comprehensive contingency planning, ensuring bed capacity and patient safety, timely transportation of medical staff in buses and provision of room to stay after shifts, and using sandbags as flood barriers to keep water out of the facilities, among others to ensure uninterrupted emergency services.

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Top management and medical staff told Khaleej Times that advance alerts from the local authorities helped hospitals prepare for emergencies and deploy their contingency plans. Most hospitals did not encounter any unusual uptick in emergencies apart from a few cases of minor injuries. Also, all hospitals had additional medical and non-medical supplies to handle any emergencies.

Sarah Ilyas
Sarah Ilyas

Aster Hospital, with healthcare facilities in Dubai and Sharjah, had an on-call duty roster for medical professionals and a remote work option for back-office staff.

“Nurses and doctors who stay nearby at walking distance were called in as per the set on-call duty roster contingency protocol. Frontline workers from areas that were completely blocked because of waterlogging continued to work. We provided them rooms to rest and take breaks, including meals and clothes,” said Sarah Ilyas, chief nursing officer at Aster Hospitals and Clinics in UAE and Oman.

Flooded roads did impact the turn-around time to transport patients to hospitals, but the medical staff was up to the task. “Our team had anticipated this delay and equipped the ambulances with additional supplies, including advanced life support measures.”

Aster Hospital did face flooding issues in the basement area at some of its centres.

“With our emergency facility crisis management contingency plan in place, we were able to manage effectively, thanks to support from the Dubai Municipality,” Sarah noted.

Prof Dr Abdel Rahman Omer
Prof Dr Abdel Rahman Omer

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-headquartered Burjeel Holdings, with hospitals in the Capital, and its suburbs, Al Ain, Al Dhannah, Dubai and Sharjah, declared an internal ‘code grey’ emergency weather alert leading to close coordination among all operations and capacity management.

Prof Dr Abdel Rahman Omer, group medical director of Burjeel Holdings, noted that the group has a disaster management plan created after extensive and systematic planning and drills, which proved beneficial on Tuesday.

“Once the storm hit, ‘code grey’ was activated, and the incident command system was immediately available to handle the situation. Frontline teams promptly reported to the building site. Updates and communication regarding events were ongoing. Live weather and traffic monitoring were done for safe transportation for our staff,” Prof Dr Omer said.

“We assured patients and family members about our planning and preparation. Communication routes were secured and evacuation plans were reviewed. Hospital capacity was ensured to cater to any mass casualty,” he underlined.

Clearing drainages, pumps, tankers

Ahalia Medical Group, with a presence in Abu Dhabi and industrial areas, charted out emergency preparedness measures.

“We evaluated bed availability in our emergency and IP/ICU departments. Additional staff and resources were allocated to the emergency department to manage potential influxes of patients. Arrangements were in place for emergency staff and doctors to remain on-site or rest. Ambulances underwent thorough checks and functioned without disruptions. We provided raincoats to our staff, drivers, and doctors,” said Induchoodan Aravind, manager of medical administration at Ahalia Hospital, Musaffah.

Induchoodan Aravind
Induchoodan Aravind

The hospital implemented internal measures such as clearing drainages and placing sandbags to prevent water flow into the basement.

“Immersible pumps and external tanker services were arranged, proving effective during heavy rains and water flow,” Aravind said and noted that the group's 10th anniversary celebrations falling on April 16 were also postponed.

Minor damage, no injuries

Dr Zuhair Alsharafi, corporate director of emergency services at Burjeel Holdings, noted that Burjeel Medical City (BMC) endured minor damage during the two waves of the storm in Mohammed bin Zayed City.

Dr Zuhair Alsharafi
Dr Zuhair Alsharafi

“The damage to the building at BMC was very sporadic and insignificant. Critical areas, including the operation rooms, the ICU, emergency departments, and fundamental infrastructure like lab and radiology services, were not affected. No injuries occurred among staff or patients; all were safe and secure,” said Dr Alsharafi, director of the emergency department at BMC, Abu Dhabi.

Onshore, offshore sites secured

Response Plus Medical, a leading pre-hospital care and emergency medical services provider in the UAE, had proactive management for onshore and offshore services.

“An alert was sent to our corporate clients to reach out to the RPM EMS Helpline 80075, should they need any emergency response or evacuation through our ambulances and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS),” Dr Rohil Raghavan, CEO of Response Plus Medical, said.

Dr Rohil Raghavan
Dr Rohil Raghavan

The company operates 500 clinics catering to the oil and gas, and industrial sectors.

“The team maintained a close vigil on all our onshore and offshore project sites, braving the challenging conditions to ensure the safety of the employees, besides mobilising resources at various event venues across the UAE,” Dr Raghavan said.


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