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Contingency plans help manage the aftermath of disasters that impact facility operations


December 15, 2016

 Contingency plans help manage the aftermath of disasters that impact facility operations

Even a short interruption in electrical power or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) can put patients at risk, disrupt normal routines, and cause extensive physical damage. That’s why it’s important to have integrated hospital contingency plans specifically addressing power and HVAC interruptions.

Losing power or HVAC can have an immediate impact on hospital operations, the physical environment of care, and the hospital’s ability to meet community needs. The effects are even more severe if the outage lasts days or longer, eroding stakeholder confidence and impacting hospital finances by reducing revenue, distracting caregivers from their primary duties, and limiting use of expensive equipment.

To be effective, the power and HVAC recovery plan needs to be proactively developed, well-understood, updated frequently, and practiced regularly. An effective plan can reduce financial risk, protect the health and safety of building occupants, and increase peace of mind for the organization and its constituents. And in many cases, the time and money invested in contingency planning more than pays for itself the first time the plan is used.

Effective plans speed disaster recovery
Facility teams typically lead the effort to develop a power and HVAC disaster recovery plan. They often engage contingency service providers or HVAC rental service companies to develop a plan that meets their organization’s needs.

Here are some suggested steps for developing an effective disaster recovery plan:

  • Take time to understand the financial, operational, and stakeholder impact of a power or HVAC service interruption. Qualified contingency service providers can help the organization determine the true costs of unplanned downtime, which exceed the obvious expense of repairing or replacing damaged equipment.
  • Address all the potential causes of system failure, including natural disasters, power outages, equipment failures, fires, and even sabotage. Consider each cause’s probability, potential to disrupt normal operations, and financial cost. Include the equipment repair and replacement costs and the impact of the facility being out of commission for an extended period of time.
  • Identify reliable, experienced contingency planning consultants and temporary equipment providers. These professionals have access to tools and templates to ensure the contingency plan is complete, effective, and practical.
  • Arrange a critical system audit to identify mission-essential power and HVAC systems and assess their current operating condition. Address performance problems and document potential failure points. Most organizations will seek a third-party expert to assist with an audit. They often choose to work with HVAC original equipment manufacturers because those entities are familiar with mechanical systems and their operation.
  • Identify areas within the hospital for which an unplanned service interruption would have the greatest impact on mission-essential operations and the bottom line.
  • Consider the need for rental power and HVAC equipment. An HVAC rental services company can help develop plans to meet power, heating, and cooling needs when permanent systems are not available or cannot handle the job.
  • Develop and implement the power and HVAC contingency plan and ensure it is a living document. Review and update the plan each year or when there is a significant change in the facility, such as a building modification or expansion. Provide training, conduct drills, and make required building modifications to accommodate temporary equipment.

Rental companies provide temporary solutions
HVAC rental service companies can help facility teams develop and implement plans to meet heating, cooling, and power requirements when permanent building systems go down. Organizations need to establish a relationship with a rental equipment provider that has the experience, inventory, and capabilities to meet their needs. By contracting with a service company in advance, facility teams can ensure the equipment they need will be available when disaster strikes and rental units are in high demand.

For example, a regional hospital in Louisiana was well prepared when Hurricane Isaac caused a major local power outage in 2012. The hospital already had a rental generator on-site to keep the lights on, the HVAC running, and the essential medical equipment operating. Because the hospital had a proactive power and HVAC recovery plan, the facility management team was able to work with its HVAC equipment partner and have the generator installed and ready to power the facility in about 24 hours.

Rental equipment is typically modified with special framing, piping, and electrical connections that make delivery, installation, and startup fast and efficient. The recovery plan should identify the best places to position temporary equipment and specify how the systems will be connected to the building. Electrical service must be sufficient to operate temporary equipment, such as a chilled water system or supplementary HVAC units. When time is of the essence during an emergency, having the right connections for electrical, water, and air ducts is essential.

A hospital in North Carolina experienced a severe outage during a citywide power failure, convincing the facility team of the need to develop and implement an HVAC and power contingency plan. The hospital installed external power connections for a temporary generator and pipe connections to tie a temporary chilled water system into the existing system. These access points will streamline the installation of temporary equipment in the event of an unplanned system failure.

Facility leaders play a unique role in protecting their organization from the potential fallout of natural or man-made disasters. The severe weather conditions over the past several years should remind facility team members to be ready to take a leadership role in preparing their organization to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of a power or HVAC service interruption.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Facility Care, a publication of Thompson Information Services.


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