In today’s environment where abnormal weather seems to be the new normal, we have seen numerous instances where natural disasters have wreaked havoc on critical facilities in a community. Recent examples of devastating disasters where critical facilities were taken out of service for long periods of time due to a lack of reliable power include the Joplin tornado of 2011 and Superstorm Sandy which occurred in 2012. At times when their communities needed them most, many critical facilities (hospitals, fire stations, police stations, and emergency shelters) were not available for considerable periods of time.
Recognizing this, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) has published a best practices document to help critical facilities become more reliable and better prepared for these natural disasters. FEMA document P-1019 entitled “Emergency Power Systems for Critical Facilities: A Best Practices Approach to Improving Reliability” provides guidance to critical facilities by helping them identify weaknesses in their emergency power systems and implement plans to improve their availability of reliable power. Although voluntary, many healthcare facilities are implementing FEMA P-1019 recommendations as they realize that availability to the population they serve is their highest priority.
One of the early steps in improving the reliability of a healthcare facility’s emergency power system is assessing the current state of the system and the risks inherent to reliable power. Weaknesses in the emergency power system can come from many sources: age of equipment, system design, location of key system components, and lack of redundancy in the system. Facility managers and their staffs may or may not have the time, training, or objectivity to conduct a thorough assessment of the emergency power system. If needed, bringing in an outside resource for assistance may be prudent. A Power System Risk Assessment can assist a healthcare facility in assessing risk with their emergency power systems and constructing a plan of improvement in line with the recommendations of FEMA P-1019.
A Power System Risk Assessment like that contained within Schneider Electric’s HealthPower Infrastructure Program provides valuable information on the present state of the power distribution system and identifies areas of risk to system robustness and reliable power. Activities in the assessment should include a system walk-thru, one-line evaluation, equipment condition evaluation, code compliance review, evaluation of environmental conditions, maintenance cycle review, and a review of the facility’s emergency action plan. Results of the risk assessment should then be reviewed with the facility owner in an easy-to-understand table which prioritizes risk and suggests action plans for improvement.
The most important ability of a healthcare facility should be availability during times of greatest need. FEMA’s P-1019 recommendations provide guidance to help facilities improve the reliability of their emergency power systems. A sound first step in this path to improved reliability should be an assessment of the current state, and a Power System Risk Assessment is a valuable tool for facilities that need help starting along this path.