Mass General Hospital designing $1 billion emergency buildings

BOSTON — Massachusetts General Hospital is in the process of designing a $1 billion bunker to be used as a place of refuge during a natural or man-made disaster.

"How do we protect our city from natural disasters? It's a conversation we have to have," said Joan Saba, partner at NBBJ Architects.

That conversation is one that’s been happening behind closed doors at Mass General Hospital, and plans for a $1 billion dollar campus expansion are emerging out into the open.

It's a place where patients and staff could potentially “shelter in place” for four days in the face of disaster.

"I think we’re going to be one of the trend setters in terms of what does a modern hospital need today in the City of Boston to withstand any disaster human or natural," Saba said.

Saba says no stone is being left unturned in designing this facility of the future, thinking about every worst case scenario imaginable.

"It's really thinking about the windows the structure of the windows," Saba said.

"We’ve learned a lot from Katrina and Sandy in terms of the hospitals in New York and New Orleans and they have to be built to be able to withstand the disaster but also be able to function afterwards," Saba said.

Flood-proofing this 13-story building with 456 single occupancy rooms, a top priority, the West End development in an area that was once water and marsh would require the bulldozing of several existing buildings in a two block radius – a bridge would allow people access from the rest of MGH’s main campus.

"Think of it as a facility that would perhaps be a place of a refuge for the whole hospital," said Sally Mason-Boemer, senior vice president of administration and finance at Mass General Hospital.

Mason-Boemer says the hospital is already taking steps to fortify existing buildings built in 1940 and 1969 and dated systems, which includes moving critical operations out of basements and putting special protective coatings on windows and doors.

"New construction is a way to address those vulnerabilities," Mason-Boemer said.

The planning process of this new facility is still in the early phases with hopes of starting construction as early as next year.

Hospital officials say they’ll be looking for community input before this moves to the state approval level.