Good morning, ProviderNation.
Disaster knows no political, geographical, or socio-economical boundaries and can strike individual communities and entire regions of the country in a blink of an eye. From devastating flooding in Colorado to wildfires in Arizona, to the next mega hurricane or blizzard that may hit the northeast, long term care providers must understand the potential threats and perils that can impact their operations.
Regardless of the type of emergency, electrical power is a significant element of operations that all providers must adequately address and safeguard.
As technology continues to expand into long term care facilities of all types, it is important to evaluate emergency power capabilities to ensure that critical elements of a building’s operation outside the realm of required life safety systems are supported when a power disruption or failure occurs.
The utilization and sustainability of electronic medical records (EMRs) and other forms of computer and Web-based platforms should not be taken for granted. Emergency power provisions should be in place to help ensure continuity of operations during adverse events when normal electrical power is lost.
A great deal of focus is placed on emergency power for essential life safety components within a facility, as required by the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) Life Safety Code (2000 edition) and related codes published by NFPA. These components include illuminated exit signs, emergency lights, and electricity for essential life-sustaining equipment.
While it has been my experience that most providers meet the requirements for providing and maintaining emergency power supplies for these required systems, they sometimes fail to assess and accommodate emergency power demands for other important items that need to be supported when normal power is unavailable.
Providing emergency power to sustain essential elements of facility operations can be a significant asset during emergencies, even if these systems are not specifically required to have a back-up power source in accordance with the Life Safety Code or other regulations.
In older buildings, it may be as simple as ensuring that your computers are connected to an outlet that is connected to the facility’s emergency generator. These outlets are typically designated by a red cover or similar marking.
Other areas to consider for emergency power include the kitchen, dining rooms, and large assembly areas that may be used during an adverse event or disaster where the facility is required to shelter in place or take in evacuees from another provider.
It may be helpful to conduct an informal audit of your facility to determine if any gaps exist in ancillary areas that should have access to emergency power. Oftentimes, these vulnerabilities are not realized until an actual power failure occurs. Work with your technology vendors to determine if all essential systems, including EMR and the facility’s telephone system, are supported by a reliable emergency power source like an emergency generator or battery system.
When gaps are identified, determine if additional back-up power is available and can be provided to these areas in a safe and compliant manner. Work with your emergency generator contractor and local power company to determine cost-effective ways to expand emergency power capabilities to enhance the facility’s ability to provide a safe environment of care during emergencies that may include large-scale disasters where the delivery of power may be interrupted for long periods of time.
Be proactive and inquisitive to determine your building’s power capabilities and limitations long before a crisis or disaster strikes.
Stan Szpytek is the president of Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and is the Life Safety/Disaster Planning Consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and California Association of Health Facilities. He is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 35 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit www.EMAllianceusa.com or e-mail Szpytek at Firemarshal10@aol.com.