Question Of The Week: What Is On Your Hurricane Preparedness List?

Loss of main power is always a top concern in extreme weather situations, and the non-profit Powered For Patients urges healthcare facility managers to safeguard their backup power supply systems during hurricane preparedness.

Powered for Patients, a non-profit organization formed after Hurricane Sandy occurred in 2012, focuses on helping stakeholders safeguard emergency power systems and expedite power restoration for hospitals and other critical healthcare facilities. The organization is urging facility managers at hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis centers in the potential path of Hurricane Matthew to take extra precautions to safeguard their facilities’ backup power supply systems, as part of their hurricane preparedness tasks.

To help facility management departments at critical healthcare facilities safeguard emergency power systems, Powered for Patients has posted a link on its website to FEMA checklists that detail numerous steps facility managers should take before, during, and after a disaster to help ensure continued operation of emergency generators. (The checklists were included in FEMA’s 2014 guidebook: Emergency Power Systems for Critical Facilities: A Best Practices Approach to Improving Reliability (P-1019).)

During both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, failure of backup power systems led to the emergency evacuation of numerous hospitals. Common reasons for failure in both Katrina and Sandy included submersion of generator fuel tanks and fuel pumps by flood water, mechanical failures, and lack of fuel to resupply generators.

hurricane preparedness
Flooding from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, 2005. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Given the projected strength of Hurricane Matthew as it parallels the southeast U.S. coast and potentially makes landfall, extensive power outages are likely.

In addition to carefully following the FEMA checklist, Powered for Patients is also urging hospital facility managers to determine the appropriate emergency management agency or public health department officials to contact if backup power systems are threatened or fail. Federal resources, including temporary generators and generator fuel, are available to critical healthcare facilities that have lost emergency power. However, this federal support must be requested by state officials who often rely on requests for this type of support from a local emergency management agency or public health department.

Powered for Patients also advises facility managers at critical healthcare facilities to contact their electric utility liaisons to verify protocols for reconnecting to the grid after a power outage and to ensure that contact information for utility liaisons is up-to-date. Close coordination between a healthcare facility without power, and a utility may impact prioritized power restoration.

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, many at-risk citizens relying on electric-powered medical equipment flooded hospital emergency departments as the backup batteries on their medical equipment ran dangerously low. This surge of patients further strained hospitals already struggling to operate in a disaster environment. “It’s important for at-risk citizens who use ventilators, oxygen concentrators and dialysis machines in their homes to be prepared for extended power outages,” said Eric Cote, Project Director for Powered for Patients. “Key steps in preparing for an extended power outage include fully charging backup batteries for durable medical equipment and identifying a source of emergency power where batteries can be recharged or equipment can be plugged in.”

Powered for Patients is currently advancing a Department of Homeland Security-funded stakeholder engagement initiative to foster closer collaboration between stakeholders involved in safeguarding emergency power and expediting power restoration for critical healthcare facilities. Powered for Patients is also working with the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) on an initiative to promote best practices in safeguarding emergency power systems.

If you have facilities in the path of Hurricane Matthew, what preparations have you made? Have you encountered uncertainties in terms of protocol? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.