HAP Blog

Part 2: What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Faults in our electrical grid leave us vulnerable to energy emergencies

June 30, 2022

If the power goes out at your facility, do you have a plan?

In part one of this two-part series, we looked at how power outages affect health and your preparation strategies before an emergency.

With summer officially underway, we have to be ready for severe storms, extreme heat, and other conditions that can knock the power offline. Let’s take a look at three other factors to add to your emergency list so your power plan is ready for the summer.

1. Communication is key

When the power goes out, how will you let people know where to be and what to do?

Communication is often the number one area of improvement after any emergency. Be prepared to communicate with patients and residents, staff, family, and media when an incident occurs. This all gets more complicated when the lights go out.

During an outage, you should consider the following:

  • Have a message ready:  Facility leaders and public information officers should have scripts, memos, messages, and social media posts ready in advance of an outage. Consider various scenarios. When an incident occurs, it’s easier to edit template statements than to create one from scratch while trying to manage a dynamic and stressful event. Words written while calm portray and maintain calmness; words written in high anxiety situations convey anxiety.
  • Prepare for the worst:  What could go wrong often does. Cell phones, text messages, and overhead notification systems might not be operational during an outage. Two-way and handheld radios are not always perfect. Wi-Fi and the Internet may be inaccessible. Know what to do when technology fails.
  • Return to paper:  Paper documentation might be required. Also, consider utilizing “runners” to relay documents and information to and from incident command.  

2. Emergency room preparedness

Emergency departments (ED) more than likely will experience some type of volume increase during an outage.

During an August 2003 outage, New York hospitals saw an increase in patients arriving due to medical device failure like nonfunctioning oxygen conservers. Do your plans address the management of these lesser-acute individuals? What type of stress does this place on to your ED? Do you have sufficient staff?

A prolonged event can increase patient volumes. Within 24 hours from of the start of the blackout, EMS crews in New York City saw a 58 percent increase in call volume.

Many of these calls were for respiratory patients, and they were transported to hospitals.

Your emergency plan must put people in the right places during stressful times.

3. Generators! Generators! Generators! 

Finally, let’s think about generators—our energy lifeline during an outage.

When facilities are on generator power, many unexpected issues can occur. Generators may appear to be operating properly, but they also can fail without warning. Battery failure and malfunction are the leading causes for failure. When troubleshooting issues, check coolant levels and look for leaks—coolant, oil, fuel.

Consider the following:

  • Has general routine maintenance been done?
  • Are filters clean? Inspect fuel lines and connections.
  • Has the oil been changed? Adequate oil changes lessen the likelihood of wear and tear on the engine.
  • Have you done regular testing of the generator? Has a load test been completed? How recently and how often?  
  • Do you have vendor contracts in place? Do they have the reserves and supplies you require, and how long can they support you? How many agreements do they have with other organizations and do they prioritize your facility? If there’s an increase in demand for your fuel, will you be able to get it?

While on generator power, be aware that less critical, secondary issues can occur. It happens quite frequently—a fault triggers the fire alarm or trips a breaker that’s designed to power emergency lighting or outlets.

It’s difficult to predict what these secondary issues will be, but it’s important to recognize that smaller, less significant issues can add up to create a much larger, challenging problem.

If you work in emergency preparedness, I’m sure you’ve learned this lesson a time or two.

For questions or additional energy insights, contact meor another member of HAP’s emergency management team.

Please login or register to post comments.