The role of emergency power systems is critical when it comes to patient safety in healthcare facilities. Hospitals rely on their emergency power generators to activate in the event of an emergency to ensure patient safety and wellbeing, as well as that of employees and visitors.
With zero room for unreliability, the pressure to maintain critical power is high. This is intensified by new technology and increasing power demands. So, what are the dangers healthcare facilities need to be aware of? And how can facility managers use this knowledge to safeguard emergency power systems?
Here are 7 factors to consider:
1. System reliability
The reliability of a facility’s emergency power system has always been and continues to remain a core challenge faced by the healthcare industry. With increased demand, new requirements and lower budgets, it’s difficult for facility managers to factor in the time and costs to effectively test and maintain their power distribution systems.
Construction budgets have tightened immensely, meaning healthcare facilities are focused on meeting obligatory requirements only. Essentially, this predicament means that although premises meet minimum standards, they haven’t the capital to invest in activities or resources which could ensure increased security of hospital power systems.
Some argue that more comprehensive safety codes would alleviate this issue as it would make the improvements mandatory. Others however, resist tighter codes, claiming that they don’t have the funds to cover the higher capital cost of updated systems.
2. Facilities testing
Facilities testing plays a vital role in the maintenance and reliable performance of emergency power systems. When it comes to a new construction or renovation project, it’s vital that facility managers communicate with design engineers to ensure that testing activities are accounted for in project plans. For example, when an uninterruptible power supply is used, facility managers need to ensure it’s included in the maintenance management system plans to maintain smooth and reliable operations.
3. New construction and renovations
With ongoing changes in healthcare facilities inevitable, it’s easy for connectivity issues to arise with new equipment or adjustments to existing systems. For example, it’s common for equipment to be connected to the wrong branch, leaving outlets without crucial emergency power when urgently needed. These scenarios tend to arise because of new construction or during modifications, with power issues easily avoidable if an efficient commissioning process had been in place. Facility managers can only hope that these system failures don’t result in graver consequences or jeopardize patient care. To avoid these potentially fatal errors, healthcare facilities should implement comprehensive emergency power system branch marking, along with robust construction management policies.
4. Power shutdowns and maintenance
Although there are very few hospitals that carry out power shutdowns to complete maintenance, how many healthcare facilities consider backup when equipment is disconnected for maintenance? During periods of electrical maintenance, it’s vital for power to be switched off. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70e for example, has heightened the focus on electrical arc-flash safety in recent years; requiring equipment to be shut down before maintenance can take place.
Keeping hospital one-line diagrams up to date to accurately show current system configuration is extremely important. A lack of organized documentation can make it difficult to successfully manage electrical failures within the facility.
There are similarities in the processes necessary for a successfully planned shutdown and that of the emergency management process during unplanned outages. However, it’s challenging for those hospitals without bypass- isolation transfer switches to sustain their transfer switches, as to do so safely would involve disconnecting the branch fed by the switch.
5. System Commissioning
Commissioning should be a priority practice for all healthcare facility managers when it comes to new emergency power systems and adjustments to existing systems. Emergency power systems are critical in hospitals and require additional maintenance to safeguard their optimum functionality in the event of a power shortage.
The NFPA 110 Initial Acceptance Test enables technicians to carry out an overall test on the emergency power system to analyze if all loads are connected and running from the system as they should be.
The four-hour test is carried out as follows:
- For the first two hours, a simulation of a primary utility power failure or full power outage is tested. This validates that the loads needed for emergency power are running successfully on that system. This 2-hour period is also used for paralleled systems to test the paralleled generators to ensure they are running simultaneously.
- During the second-half, a full load test is carried out to certify that the new system can power a rated load.
6. Load testing
Monthly load tests assess the efficiency of both emergency power generation and distribution equipment and present a prime opportunity to monitor other areas of emergency power care. Load testing periods should also be used to educate and train staff on the various areas of electrical care.
7. Analyze test results
Merely carrying out power testing isn’t enough; facility managers need to review the analysis and examine any failures that occurred. Failures are inevitable when all facility equipment is operating, including apparatus that is usually off.
Don’t view these failures negatively, instead, see them as an opportunity to improve efficiency. Highlighting problematic areas during testing lets facility professionals rectify these issues, before they could have been critical in an unplanned power outage.
When a failure occurs during a planned testing period, the facility is aware and prepared to deal with the outage, making it much less harmful in the event of an unanticipated outage.
The role of emergency power in healthcare facilities is vital and an aspect of facilities management that cannot be neglected. Hospitals rely on emergency power to kick in during an outage, but if the emergency power supply isn’t reliable, the consequences can be critical. Being proactive and carrying out sufficient testing, monitoring and maintenance will allow facility managers to identify problems and make improvements before the issue evolves into something with graver consequences.