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Hospitals in Hurricane Irene's Path Enact Safety Plans

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As Hurricane Irene heads north, hospitals in its path are getting ready for the worst. ABC News contacted medical facilities up and down the coast in the path of Irene to get their take on this weekend's safety plan.

"All acute inpatient facilities need to have disaster preparedness committees, and we routinely practice for these kinds of scenarios," said Dr. Michael Lucchesi, chief of emergency medicine at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., which should begin to feel Irene's effects late Saturday night and Sunday. "Some hospitals are better at disaster preparedness than others, but all have a plan."

"We've closed shutters, put boards over windows [and] we'll be sandbagging the doors later today," said Jarie Ebert, spokeswoman for North Carolina's Outer Banks Hospital, which is less than half a mile from the coast and a mere 14 feet above sea level. Hurricane Irene will make its first U.S. stop near the shores of North Carolina Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

"Anyone considering elective or nonemergency surgery has been already done or rescheduled," said Ebert, noting that 40 to 50 hospital staff members, known as Team A, will arrive Friday night and stay through the duration of the storm.

Emma Inman, a spokeswoman for Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, also in Irene's Saturday morning path, noted that the hospital has been testing backup generators and stocking supplies, medications, food, water and fuel to last several days.

"A number of our facilities are contemplating lockdowns," said Inman. "They won't make that decision until tomorrow, though."

One Sentara nursing home located on coastal Currituck, Va., has already been evacuated. Patients have been dispersed to facilities in Hamptons Roads, which is farther inland from the hurricane's path.

Located in one of the most vulnerable areas of New York City, Brooklyn's Coney Island Hospital was evacuated Friday morning. Patients were transferred to SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which sits more inland.

"We're going to have 25 to 30 percent of additional reserves on hand because of the transfer," said Downstate's Lucchesi. "When you get a surge of patients, you have to make sure you have enough medication, and [that] ventilators are all functioning."

As the fire departments and emergency medical services go into "transport mode" for the next 24 hours, 911 calls in the New York area may not receive as quick of a response as they normally would, Lucchesi said.

For patients on dialysis, SUNY Downstate will extend Friday evening hours "so patients can get dialyzed who would normally come in Saturday," said Lucchesi.

Hospitals cannot be too prepared for disasters, said Lucchesi. After much criticism of the emergency response when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf region in 2005, most medical facilities and government agencies are not taking any chances with safety this time.

"We have to worry about the panic that goes across the population, but a little bit of preparation beforehand, like getting enough water, flashlights, gas in the car, can go a long way," said Lucchesi.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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