Emergency Generators: A Loss of Power Doesn’t Mean a Loss of Life

By ThinkReliability Staff

If you are working at a healthcare facility, you most likely have an emergency generator. However, that emergency generator probably powers only certain critical sections of the facility, and it probably doesn’t include the administration part of the building. Why is that so?

We can look at impacts to the goals to determine why a solution that’s successfully implemented to solve a problem at one location or organization may not be the right solution for another organization. In a hospital, a loss of power could impact the goals pretty severely – the risk of death to the patients impacts the safety goal, the loss of life-saving equipment impacts the customer service goal. Additionally, the production goal may be impacted because the facility is unable to enter new patients. Last but not least, an additional cost (impact to the materials/labor goal) may be incurred transferring patients to a new facility. Obviously the risk of death means a HUGE impact to the organization’s goals, demanding comprehensive reliability solutions.

Compare this to an office building, such as where our administrative offices would be. If a loss of power occurred, the goals would be impacted – employees could get injured leaving the building if the lights went out. This is an impact to the safety goal. We may lose our business function during the outage, which would be an impact to the customer service and production goals. Additionally, we may have to pay our employees for a non-work day. The goals are impacted, but the severity of the impacts pales compared to the impacts of a hospital or medical facility losing power.

If we create a Cause Map based on these impacts to the goals, it shows that all the impacts to the goals tie back to a loss of electrical power, caused by both a power outage AND a lack of back-up electricity source. (The Outline and Cause Map are shown on the downloadable PDF.)

When determining solutions, there are a few that come to mind, including transferring patients to another healthcare facility (which becomes an impact to the goals) and installing battery backups in equipment. However, because of the severe impacts to the goals, a hospital will likely decide that the whole problem can be solved by installing an emergency generator. Problem solved; we have been able to find the best solution.

The administrative offices may feel differently. The cost of installing an emergency generator is large, and if we compare that cost to the costs that would be incurred due to a loss of power without backup, it’s probably not worth it. Instead, the office building may implement solutions further to the left on the Cause Map, such as installing emergency lighting, or using battery backups, that would mitigate (but not prevent) the impacts to the goals. So, just because a solution was the “right” solution in one case, it may not be in every case.

View the Outlines and Cause Maps for both the hospital and office building by clicking “Download PDF” above.

View the Joint Commission’s article on Power System Failures.