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New Stanford hospital preps for the 'big one'

Building designed to withstand a devastating earthquake

When a large earthquake hits the Bay Area, the new seven-story Stanford Hospital, currently under construction, is expected to literally skate right through it, according to hospital officials.

The 824,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed by 2017 and to open its doors in early 2018. Of all the new features being lauded by officials -- a new trauma center, 17 operating rooms and five gardens with walking trails -- there are 206 that visitors will never see. And they could turn out to be the most critical to patient care.

Hidden beneath the structure will be base isolators, 2.5- to 4-ton steel plates that roll on metal bearings to allow the rigid building to sway. Each base isolator is mounted on a piling that rises above the concrete foundation. They move much like giant roller skates, said Jennifer Costa, Stanford University Medical Center spokeswoman for planning design and construction.

In an earthquake, the entire structure will be able to rock a total of six feet, or three feet in any one direction, which should prevent the building from damage when the "big one" hits, Costa said.

Stanford is building the new facility to meet state requirements for seismic safety as well as to expand its services in light of high local and regional demand. Stanford is the only Level 1 trauma center on the Peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco, and it often takes cases from as far away as San Benito County. Level 1 is the highest ranking of care. Having an expanded, technologically advanced facility is not only critical to care in a disaster, but the building must also be able to weather a powerful earthquake. The new hospital is designed to withstand up to a magnitude-8 temblor, Costa said.

The building will also have a six-foot "floating wall" between an adjacent parking garage and the trauma center. The parking structure, large enough to accommodate 900 cars, can be converted into a triage center in the event of a catastrophe and connects directly to the emergency room, Costa said.

Once the new hospital is completed, the complex will also have an additional 368 beds, bringing the total to 600 on site. The new trauma center will be twice the size of the current facility. The next construction phase, moving into structural steel, is scheduled for late June to early July.

Seismic upgrades to the older hospital will follow after the new hospital is completed, Costa said.

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