On September 6, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations issued a Sentinel Event Alert urging health care organizations to pay special attention to how emergency power systems can fail. Though the alert was geared towards hospitals and other facilities that directly care for patients, many of the precautions recommended also apply to laboratories. The loss of power for an unexpected amount of time due to natural disaster can cause the loss of specimens in storage and specimens being processed with failing equipment. Furthermore, loss of power presents a safety hazard for laboratory employees.

In order to meet current standards, health care facilities must have an emergency power testing program that includes generator load testing and Emergency Power Supply System (EPSS) maintenance. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) establishes codes and standards on the minimum design, installation, and testing of these systems in the National Electric Code (NFPA 70), the Standard on Health Care Facilities (NFPA 99), and the Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems (NFPA 110). EPSSs as defined by the above codes and standards are designed to “hold out” until normal power is restored.

The Joint Commission Sentinel Alert provides a number ways in which you can assess the vulnerability of your facility. These include often-overlooked items such as meeting with your local utility provider to find out how reliable the existing power system is. Factors such as age of equipment and overloading can reduce power system reliability significantly. Another way to assess facility vulnerability is to take note of any occasional brown-outs or black-outs occur at the facility, because those may be symptoms of a larger electrical problem.

The Joint Commission Sentinel Alert also provides recommendations for facilities to prevent the adverse affects of emergency electrical power system failure in addition to meeting current standards. The first recommendation is to perform a gap analysis on the emergency power system that matches the critical equipment and systems needed versus the systems actually on the emergency power system. Another recommendation is to ensure that engineering staff have communicated the capabilities and limitations of the emergency power supply system to the facility management and clinical leaders. Finally, the Sentinel Alert recommends establishing a contingency plan.

For more details on assessing vulnerability, establishing a contingency plan, and the complete list of recommendations, see the Sentinel Alert: Preventing adverse events caused by emergency electrical power system failures.