No room for risk: A sound business continuity plan is a must for healthcare facilities

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Of all the tragic stories that came out of the recent string of hurricanes that hit the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean, one of the worst was the Florida nursing home where eight patients died in immediate aftermath of an outage caused by a fallen tree, which took out the transformer that powered the building’s air conditioning system. At least four more died in the following days, all appearing to fall victim to symptoms related to the sweltering temperatures in the facility.

While we have no idea what steps the nursing home took or did not take to ensure the continuity of its critical systems, including its air conditioning, there are clear laws and guidelines in place for steps healthcare facilities should take to ensure the viability of such systems.

For example, essential electrical system circuits – those that power rooms and machines that are vital to the life and safety of patients – are required to have an alternate power source, such as a UPS and generator. And in many countries, the facilities must make sure the systems will work when called upon.

In the U.S., for example, hospitals are required to follow National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes that require emergency power supply (EPS) systems be tested at least 12 times a year, every 20 to 40 days, for a minimum of 30 minutes, at specific loads. In Europe, IEC regulations require generator combustion engines to be tested monthly until they reach rated running temperature, with an additional 60-minute annual test.


Such requirements make sense because it’s not uncommon for backup generators to fail in an emergency due to insufficient testing and maintenance. But, let’s face it, it’s not easy to coordinate these tests manually as well as measure and track results. That’s why hospitals are switching to automated Emergency Power Supply System (EPSS) test systems that perform the tests by using automatic transfer switches to periodically switch from utility to backup power. The EPSS also continuously monitors and records results, providing the kind of precise records that are helpful in troubleshooting any issues.

Various other assessments, while perhaps not required, make good sense to prevent catastrophic losses in healthcare facilities. Think of them like the routine physicals that are so important to the early detection and remediation of diseases in humans. They include:

  • Vulnerability assessment: The process of estimating disaster potential in terms of susceptibility to damage. A thorough vulnerability assessment should evaluate such crucial issues as the number of people at risk, the value of property, the number and function of the exposed critical systems, and the dangers of secondary hazards.
  • Risk assessment: A measure that combines the likelihood of a hazard with the probable degree of damage that would result. It should also account for secondary damage such as the ripple effects of rising temperatures on blood supply in a laboratory when a refrigeration system fails.
  • Disaster recovery assessment: Disaster recovery addresses the adequacy of back up plans and procedures, equipment replacement prioritization, vendor lists, emergency response planning, plan exercising, and additional procedures that will expedite recovery from a disaster event.
  • Environment assessment: The environment assessment evaluates settled and airborne contamination, air filtration, environmental impact on equipment, occupant comfort level and overall facility cleanliness. It also looks at outdoor air source and ventilation rate, and the vulnerability of support systems such as the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC).
  • Power assessment: Determines the adequacy of backup power systems, surge suppression, primary power source reliability, power routing diversity, connector systems and other energy reliability factors. Once the plan has been developed, it must be subjected to rigorous testing, in an environment that simulates authentic conditions, by the actual individuals who will undertake those activities in the event of emergency.

These are just a few of the practical steps that healthcare facilities can and should take to ensure the continuity of their critical systems in the face of power outages and other risks. To learn (lots) more, download the free Schneider Electric reference guide, “A Practical Guide to Ensuring Business Continuity and High Performance in Healthcare Facilities.” The 35-page guide covers issues ranging from regulatory compliance and business continuity to sustainability and getting executive buy-in. Download yours now and see how your business continuity plan stacks up.

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