equip-misc-01It’s an inconvenience when a home loses power and families are forced to eat dinner by candlelight. It’s a matter of life and death when a hospital experiences the same fate. Case studies have shown that surprisingly, power outages in hospitals are not as uncommon as we would like them to be; and certainly not as uncommon as they should be.

On April 16, 2002, Rhode Island Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital lost power for an entire afternoon.

In July 1999, Hurricane Floyd blew through New York City, causing a blackout that stopped full electrical service at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital for three days.

Instances like these cause hospitals to conduct full analyses of their electrical systems and implement corrective action plans. Rhode Island Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital decided to purchase a large diesel generator as a third level of backup.

Seconds of Lost Power Result in Millions of Dollars of Lost Revenue

Even a three second lag between the utility and the generator power time can throw computerized diagnostic and life-support equipment out of sync. Therefore,  diesel generators alone can’t provide the foolproof backup power large institutions with lives on the line, are in need of.

In addition, some research on Uninterruptible Power Systems (UPS) show that emergency generators have only a 90% guaranteed start record. Of course, 90% is a promising figure, but again, not good enough in the matter of life and death.

But hospitals’ budget don’t have the girth that a large data center or other high-tech facilities do to conduct the research and buy the equipment necessary to ensure 100% fail-safe power back-up.


Case-study: An Automated Generator-Testing Solution

Because hospitals are required to regularly test emergency generator systems, power monitoring systems have been developed.

An example of a company who has automated this task manufacturer is Square D, who has developed its Powerlogic power monitoring system.

As part of a $3 million dollar electrical system improvement project, The operations staff at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., recently installed the system. Using the system, Herschel Flannery, the VA’s electrical engineer, monitors the hospital’s Emergency Power Supply System (EPSS) and recently upgraded electrical system. The power-monitoring system automates the generator-testing sequence in order to document compliance with minimum loading criteria throughout the test cycle.

The hospital has found their job of testing is more efficient since commissioning the power monitoring system, preparing them for a power outage.

Final Solution: Fuel Cells

Fuel cells have been portrayed as the cutting-edge solution in recent research and in the press over the past few years. Fuel cells, which generate electricity from a hydrocarbon fuel such as natural gas, propane or diesel, have been touted in the press for the last few years as the most promising of long-term power technologies for the future.

While some institutions see fuel cells as futuristic and too expensive, those who have applied this technology have seen successful results. Take for instance, the North Central Bronx Hospital, the first hospital in the United States to generate electricity from a fuel cell power plant.

They believe that 90% success rate is unacceptable and 24/7 uninterrupted power is possible.

“It’s difficult to place a price tag on the benefits of having this clean and dependable source of electricity for the hospital’s diverse power needs “ said Joseph S. Orlando, senior vice president, North Bronx Healthcare Network, consisting of NCBH, Jacobi Medical Center and five community health centers.

A healthcare emergency power course

A publication from the Motor and Generator Institute and Healthcare Circuit News provides information on how to comply with various healthcare facility standards, including JCAHO, CMS (Children’s Medical Services, State and NFPA 110, Chapter 6, “Maintenance and Testing” referred to in JCAHO, EC The publication qualifies as a Certificate Correspondence Course for American Hospital Association’s Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM) credential renewal. An award of six “contact hours” will be made upon successful completion. Content Code 3; Type Code 3

The course is designed to stay abreast of the latest codes and standards changes as they relate to the EES (Essential Electrical Systems) in general and the EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems). It provides an in-depth look at NFPA 110, and can help prevent Type 1 recommendations and write-ups for non-compliance to Utility Management Codes. For more information, visit Healthcare Circuit News at www.mgi-hcn.com.

Ground fault–a medical emergency

The following “true-life example from a metropolitan hospital” is excerpted from “Uptime all the time, designing a safe and reliable electrical system, Part 1. Source: Buildings.com

A hospital added a new wing to its existing 30-year-old facility. A power system study performed on the new electrical distribution system only assured coordination between protective devices within the new system. The new electrical system consisted of a 4160V switchgear, 4160V primary/480V secondary substations, 480V and 208V panel boards, and 480V and 208V motor control centers (MCC). The contract for the power system study did not include the existing electrical system in the study.

At 1:25 a.m. on Oct. 3, 1998, a ground fault occurred in a 25 hp fan motor supplied from a motor control center located on the second floor of the existing building. The protective device in the motor control center did not trip, nor did it trip the upstream feeder circuit beaker that supplied this MCC via an automatic transfer switch (ATS). The main breaker for the existing power center thus operated and removed power from the faulted system. This resulted in a loss of power to half of the existing facility. All power was lost to the critical care loads, including life support and patient isolation ventilation systems.

Subsequent to the main circuit breaker trip, all automatic transfer switches sensed the loss of power. A signal was sent to start the emergency generators. Once the generators started, the automatic transfer switches operated and re-established a supply of power to the emergency system. The emergency power was not supplied for long since the ground fault was still present at the 25hp fan. The circuit breaker on the emergency system feeding all the transfer switches tripped, resulting in the complete loss of power to the hospital.

Fortunately, the medical staff, trained for this type of emergency, reacted without delay. Several patients on respirators were in severe danger of suffocating. The medical staff manually operated bag valve masks that breathed for the patients. After 20 minutes, the fault was isolated and power was restored with no harm to any patients.