What are the Requirements for Hospital Backup Generators?
Both natural and human-made disasters can strike anywhere, with or without warning, causing power outages. In many natural disasters, these power-impacting events also can lead to an increased demand for medical attention for nearby individuals who sustained injuries from the event. As a result, sites in the healthcare industry can’t rely on the power grid alone to provide their electricity.
To meet the needs of existing and future patients, healthcare facilities require a backup source of power. Essentially, every second without power could cost patients dearly — in a blackout, doctors, nurses and other staff can’t access equipment that keeps patients alive. Therefore, hospitals typically require backup generators that respond quickly to outages to minimize time without power.
What Happens When a Hospital Loses Power?
If a hospital loses power, it can severely impact the health and well-being of patients. For instance, patients in operating rooms, intensive care units (ICUs) and post-operation recovery areas need the support of electrically powered medical equipment to keep them stable. Without power, patients’ lives could be at risk, especially those on life support equipment.
In a power outage, hospitals without backup power must protect their patients. To do so, they may mobilize and transport their patients to a nearby facility that still has power. Many healthcare facilities have battery-powered equipment that can help in the short term to keep patients stable. In severe situations, hospitals may have to wait for emergency services like the United States Coast Guard to get patients to safety.
However, a loss of power doesn’t only impact patient care functions. Aspects like heating and cooling systems, security, lights, emergency signage and communications all require steady sources of power to operate. Plus, specimens in laboratories such as blood, plasma and tissue samples need carefully controlled temperature storage. If a hospital loses power without a source of backup electricity, it’ll quickly be at risk of losing these necessities.
What Are the Requirements for Hospital Backup Generators?
Generally, the requirements for backup generators for hospitals and other healthcare facilities depend on the specific type of care they provide. For instance, generators that support equipment like ventilators have stricter regulations than units connected to the lighting. Therefore, it’s important for hospitals to have specific generators on hand to support their operations.
Basic Backup Generator Requirements
The basic requirements for generator upkeep includes maintaining them through regular unit and battery inspections and having trained personnel to test equipment periodically. Most businesses that have generators follow monthly or yearly checklists to ensure their units work whenever they need them. It’s crucial for hospitals to take note of these basic requirements, but they also need to follow specific rules for their situations.
Hospital Emergency Power Requirements
In general, hospitals must have at least two sources of power. Usually, the first is the main power from electrical lines and the second is a backup generator for powering necessary equipment. As a result, healthcare sites will ideally have enough backup power to support basic functions until the main electricity can run.
These facilities must maintain generators that will restore operations to any life-critical equipment within 10 seconds of an outage. These generators must have enough fuel to operate at full capacity for at least two hours, per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70 requirements. However, various guidelines differ in fuel storage requirements. The Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) recommends at least enough fuel for 24 hours of operation — and up to 96 hours in areas where longer power outages occur.
What Are the Two Categories for Hospital Backup Generators?
There are two categories for hospital battery backup or backup generators based on code requirements — Level 1 and Level 2. These two systems relate to the degree of importance of the generators to protecting human life.
Level 1 generator systems are mandatory if a facility losing its main power could cost people their lives. These types of generators typically help power life support systems and other vital equipment used in hospitals and similar healthcare facilities. Most hospitals fall under this category, especially those that specialize in certain areas, like cancer.
Alternatively, Level 2 generators don’t have anything to do with keeping patients alive. These systems may operate lighting and other features that are important to the overall operations of the hospital — but staff could ultimately make do without them if necessary.
What Do Hospital Generators Operate?
Alongside powering life-critical equipment that keeps patients stable, hospital generators have various functions that help run the facility as a whole. Here’s a look at the specific parts of hospital power systems that generators support.
1. Vaccine and Medical Supply Refrigeration
Many medical supplies require refrigeration to maintain their safety and stability. For instance, a medical storage facility may have vaccines, insulin, blood, plasma, tissues, organs or intravenous (IV) drips in refrigeration. If the facility loses power, a backup generator must turn on to prevent the refrigeration unit from raising the storage temperature of the medical supplies.
If the temperature exceeds a specific level for a certain amount of time, both parameters dependent upon the goods stored, the hospital must discard the supplies. Protecting the refrigeration units and keeping supplies stored at required temperatures can ensure the facility has everything it needs to continue to treat the patients in its care.
2. Life Support Equipment
Patients in ICUs depend on life support equipment to keep them alive, so power outages could be a matter of life or death for them. Maintaining backup power protects these individuals from severe complications from having their life support shut off. Backup generators are a key component of providing consistent patient treatment, whether the facility needs to use them or not.
3. Medical Equipment
Much of the equipment used in hospitals requires power. For instance, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), x-ray machines, testing machines and monitoring devices for patient vitals need power to operate. Power outages can severely damage some of these machines, costing the facility thousands of dollars to repair or replace the units. Plus, hospitals won’t be able to offer patient care with these damaged devices until repairs complete. Backup power for hospitals or other healthcare facilities can prevent expensive damage to state-of-the-art equipment and keep the facility’s diagnostic tools operating as they should.
4. Surgical Equipment
Surgical equipment, such as operating room lights, heart monitors, ventilators or heart-lung machines, require constant power. Keeping equipment used in surgery functioning protects patients and allows surgeons to continue their procedures without interruption. In some instances, such as organ transplants, time is of the essence for the success of the procedure. Therefore, backup generators that prevent lost time due to electrical outages can prevent surgical complications.
5. Occupational Safety
Another reason hospitals have backup generators is for occupational safety. By powering the lights in the facility, building occupants will be less likely to encounter the dangers of dimly lit hallways, operating rooms or patient care rooms. Keeping the hospital well-lit prevents accidents that could put additional strain on the facility.
6. Facility Power
Facility power must continue functioning in an outage because it keeps building occupants safe and comfortable. For example, heating and cooling systems keep temperatures and humidity regulated. Similarly, elevators and escalators also use facility power. Generators that offer backup facility power keep the hospital or healthcare facility operating normally with as little interruption as possible.
7. Electronic Medical Records
Cloud-based data storage of patient information and electronic medical records removes the need to store data on individual computers or in filing cabinets. However, the downside of this system is the need to keep computers and on-site servers powered. Computers must have electricity to ensure access to critical patient care files and vital communications between healthcare providers at different facilities. In an electricity outage, generators can keep these systems running, reducing the impact on patient care caused by a loss of main power.
8. Security Systems
Security systems protect hospital facilities from unauthorized access into sensitive areas. For instance, the access control system that unlocks doors for authorized personnel to enter laboratories, operating rooms and offices that store sensitive patient information needs power. A hospital battery backup source provides the power needed to keep the facility secure.
Selecting a Backup Generator for a Hospital
Choosing and installing a backup generator in a hospital isn’t always easy. You have many items to consider before moving forward with your purchase. Be sure to speak with a generator expert who can help you select the correct size and fuel type for your facility. You should also discuss the matter with electrical staff at your facility about the type of power needed.
When installing a backup generator into any facility, a master electrician will need to work with the electrical circuits to ensure the facility is properly set up to accept generator power. Always consult with specialists who can help you understand what you must do before and during the installation of a generator at your facility.
Generator Size and Requirements
Calculating the power needs for a medical facility aren’t as straightforward as the math for other types of sites. Daily operations are part of the requirements for the generator’s power. However, you’ll also need to factor in the additional power requirements for treating extra patients in an emergency.
Though several resources exist to calculate the needs of hospital power systems, accuracy in the calculation is critical to ensuring patient safety. Therefore, confirm any calculations you make with an expert in generator sizing. Another option is to work directly with a generator dealer to ensure your hospital backup power system will meet the needs of your facility, even in times of higher power requirements.
Generator Fuel Source
Generators typically use one of two main types of fuel — diesel and natural gas. Both fuel types have advantages and disadvantages the healthcare industry must weigh before choosing the best option.
Diesel generators are versatile and sturdy. Compared to natural gas generators, diesel units don’t need maintenance as regularly. By using a portable source of fuel, diesel generators don’t rely on the local natural gas supply to function during an emergency.
Even with all the advantages of diesel generators, they do have a drawback, which is their operating time. A natural gas generator connects to local gas lines, so as long as the disaster doesn’t damage these lines, they can run for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, diesel generators require diesel, which is a fuel source you have to keep on hand.
Using commercial diesel generators for your hospital backup power requires a plan for regular replenishment of the fuel supply. Typically, facilities use delivery trucks to provide them with new supplies diesel. However, fuel delivery depends on roads being open for delivery trucks to arrive. To avoid the problem of road closures impeding your fuel delivery, install external diesel fuel tanks on-site for an emergency and relocate them to the generator room as needed in an emergency.
Natural Gas Generators
Natural gas generators offer several benefits over diesel generators. They typically have a quieter operation, burn cleaner and connect to local gas lines. Therefore, your facility doesn’t need separate fuel storage. However, these units require more regular maintenance compared to diesel generators. Plus, a loss of local gas supply will stop the operation of these units unless you have a conversion kit.
Conversion kits allow your natural gas generator to run on propane, also known as liquid petroleum gas (LPG). To ensure constant power during a power outage with a natural gas generator, ensure you have a conversion kit and ready supply of propane on hand.
The location of a hospital generator is critical to ensuring maintenance staff can access it for testing and inspections. Ideally, the generator should have protection from the elements. Most hospitals designate a specific room for their generators. Therefore, when finding a location for these units, consider the following requirements for the generator room:
- Accessibility to trained staff and protection from unauthorized access
- Sound attenuation to protect surrounding areas from the noise of the operating generator
- Ventilation for the generator and proper airflow to prevent overheating or exhaust buildup
- Vibration reduction to protect nearby areas when the generator runs
- Adherence to local building, fire, emissions and zoning codes
Automatic Switches for Healthcare Facilities
To ensure your generator powers on without having a staff member manually turn on the generators, which would surpass the required time constraint of 10 seconds, you need to equip each generator with an automatic transfer switch (ATS). These switches turn on the generator when they detect an outage from the main power source. Then, when the main power returns, these switches turn off the generators. In a hospital or healthcare facility, this switch is essential for meeting standards and protecting lives.
Multiple Generators for Large Facilities
To maintain power for a large campus, a single generator won’t suffice. Using multiple generators for a facility increases redundancy to ensure power even if one of the generators fails. Plus, the additional generators allow for greater flexibility and generator alternating. For instance, you can have one unit running while the other is off, or you can have separate generators to add or reduce power loads as needed without running a larger unit.
For large facilities that use multiple sources of power, parallel switchgear allows for the addition or subtraction of generator units to meet the power needs of the facility. Plus, parallel switchgear permits two generators to start up at once within the 10-second requirement to offer faster response to power outages even when these generators are connected separately.
Does a Healthcare Facility Need a Portable Generator?
There may be situations where hospitals are at capacity and won’t be able to handle the influx of all the patients due to a disaster or catastrophe. In these cases, there may be spillover facilities known as field hospitals, which are usually pop-up centers or facilities that have been converted to handle the extra patients.
Portable generator rentals are a robust solution to provide power for equipment in these field hospitals. Since field hospitals are usually detached from the main power grid due to location, a portable generator creates the necessary power on-site to help run key medical equipment that may be required for life-saving procedures.
Additionally, with portable generator rentals, the chore of maintaining and testing the generator falls to the rental company. However, if your facility chooses to purchase a commercial portable generator, you’ll have to keep up with maintenance and testing as you would with your permanently installed units.
Generator Testing and Maintenance Requirements
One of the most important hospital generator requirements to keep in mind before backup generator installation for a hospital is conforming to the NFPA Life Safety Code, also known as NFPA 110.
This document lists the legal regulations and generator requirements for facilities that house patients on life-support systems, including:
- Maintain and test circuitry
- Maintain the batteries
- Perform regular testing
- Hire and train qualified personnel to repair and maintain generators
The document also specifies how to conduct maintenance and other necessary qualifications.
Backup generators within hospitals fall into two standard categories dictated by the NFPA:
- NFPA 99: This code regards generators as part of the essential electrical system (EES), which applies to hospital backup generators and other electrical components connected to the existing electrical system. The EES falls into three types. All hospitals with an EES must conform to Type 1 system requirements, which are mandatory if loss of power could result in the loss of human life.
- NFPA 110: This code treats generators as part of an emergency power supply system (EPSS). The EPSS includes everything in the electrical system, such as protective devices, transfer switches and conductors. When EPSS systems fail but don’t risk human life, they fall under Type 2 systems. The emergency power supply (EPS) provides the power source for the EPSS.
Testing and Maintenance
Regardless of which code your hospital backup generator falls under, routine maintenance is compulsory, which includes the following requirements:
- Manuals: Two sets of detailed instruction manuals required on-site
- Standards: All testing operations need to follow official performance regulations and guidelines
- Tools: Correct tools for testing and maintenance must be available on-site
- Personnel: Only qualified, trained staff can perform testing and maintenance
- Inspections: Once a week
- Testing: Monthly testing
Emergency Power Standards
The most essential element to standards for hospital backup generators is response time. Patients on life support can’t afford a moment without the electricity necessary to power those machines. As stated previously, hospital standby power must activate within 10 seconds, and hospitals must supply enough fuel to ensure generators run for a total of 96 hours. As a result, they can sustain themselves for a few days.
Routine inspections and testing ensure you meet standards and protect the safety of every employee and patient in the hospital.
How to Prepare Your Generator for an Emergency
Be prepared for power outages through regular maintenance and attention to your facility’s backup generators. By adhering to required standards, inspecting the unit, regularly testing it and ensuring it has adequate fuel, you can better rely on the unit functioning as needed in an emergency outage.
1. Meet All Necessary Standards
Ensure the generator meets all required standards for the type of healthcare facility it powers. This way, you can follow the law surrounding generators, preventing potential lawsuits and maintaining a safe work environment. Additionally, you could even save the lives of those in the facility.
2. Perform Weekly Inspections
Once a week, perform an inspection of the generator. Doing so ensures trained staff can identify potential problems. Therefore, they can conduct any necessary repairs before the generator requires operation.
3. Conduct Monthly Tests
Weekly inspections won’t necessarily test the function of the generator. Monthly tests verify the unit runs as designed. Doing operation tests once a month identifies issues that weekly inspections may miss.
4. Train Facility Staff
Train all staff who must inspect, test, repair or maintain the generator. Adequate training ensures your facility has people who know what they’re doing verify the operation of the generator and keep it ready for an emergency.
5. Position Generators Carefully
Avoid keeping your generator on the rooftop or in a basement — but nevertheless ensure it’s safe from various types of weather, especially flooding. Sound-attenuated enclosures help weatherproof your generator and protect it against the elements. Also, guarantee only authorized personnel can access the generator to prevent others from tampering with the unit or causing damage to its equipment.
6. Have Sufficient Fuel
Ensure an adequate fuel supply. Natural gas generators are popular due to their ability to connect to the facility’s natural gas supply lines. However, in a disaster that may disrupt this supply, such generators won’t operate. Diesel generators can offer backup power solutions. However, these require a diesel base tank and regular refueling to ensure they’ll turn on and run when needed.
Contact Us About Backup Generators for Your Healthcare Facility
In a mission-critical environment such as a hospital or emergency room, the loss of power due to a power outage can cripple all life-saving efforts and endanger staff and patients. If you’re considering installing a generator or upgrading your existing generator, but are finding it difficult to navigate through the process, please reach out to us at Woodstock Power Company.
We provide our customers with durable, cost-effective generator solutions for backup in emergency situations and extra power in non-emergencies. Find out more by browsing our selection of generators, automatic transfer switches and other accessories for your healthcare facility’s power needs. With our experience, nationwide shipping and inventory of products for the high demands of our commercial and industrial customers, we like to say we’re the most powerful brand in the industry. When you work with us to fill your power needs, you’ll see why.
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