CEO prepared for disaster

DULUTH - God forbid, if Gwinnett faces a monumental natural disaster, Emory Eastside Medical Center will be in experienced hands.

Eastside CEO Kim Ryan ran Tulane Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina, overseeing the facility's downtown operation during the massive storm and the evacuation effort when the floods threatened the lives of more than 178 patients and 1,100 patient family members, physicians, employees and their families.

She shared this epic ordeal at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's general membership meeting Tuesday at the Atlanta Marriott - Gwinnett Place in Duluth.

The night before the devastating August 2005 storm was due to make landfall, Ryan said the National Weather Service posted an urgent bulletin warning of the problems ahead. It read more like a passage from a doomsday novel, prophetizing that the storm would be "a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength" that would render the area "uninhabitable for weeks" with water shortages that would "make human suffering incredible by modern standards."

After sharing the dire message with her command center, she decided against telling staff. She could not afford a giant panic.

"Tough decision," she said. "I think I would still make the same decision again."

Following Katrina's onslaught, Ryan and her staff endured sleepless nights, mortal danger from looters and rising flood waters. The hospital was finally able safely evacuate its patients with help from the military.

She urged Gwinnett's medical community to plan for the worst through real-time disaster preparedness drills.

"Prepare and do it for real," she said.