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Compliance News: Emergency Management Planning for Hospital Water Outages

| David Stymiest

An article just published in the February 2015 issue of Healthcare Facilities Management (HFM) Magazine discusses in detail many issues related to planning for hospital water outages.  The article is available online at the HFM Magazine website.

Water outages are unfortunately a common cause or effect of cascading failures.  They can occur as a result of both internal and external factors, including both electrical utility failures and community wastewater disruptions.  Water failures can also cause internal electrical failures within hospitals depending upon the nature of the failure.

An excellent reference available at no cost is the 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publication “Emergency Water Supply Planning Guide for Hospitals and Health Care Facilities” (EWSP Guide). The EWSP Guide is so valuable partly because its development included input from many different groups of stakeholders.

Another CDC document discusses water system repairs after a water disruption and also provides detailed infection control guidelines for hospital consideration.  A peer-reviewed paper by the American Water Works Association discusses the usefulness of tanker trucks as an emergency water source.

Both references are only available in the Online Resources section at the end of the linked online HFM Magazine article.

Existing water failure procedures may lack the level of details necessary to mitigate the impact the failure.  These details can include the water services, subsystems (such as potable, non-potable, fire-protection, etc.) cross-connects, service areas, storage tanks and booster pumps.  They can also include summer and winter usage, locations and coverage areas for water shutoffs and the locations of tools for operating those shutoffs.

Since water failures can affect the entire hospital, all areas and services should be represented in developing the hospital’s water utility failure procedure.  The article addresses issues that affecting facilities, safety, direct patient care units and indirect patient care activities, laboratories, medical imaging, surgical, emergency departments, dietary, EVS, materials management, and other groups.

Finally, the HFM Magazine article discusses a dozen of the more common types of utility failures that can trigger water outages in hospitals, along with typical causes of each failure.

For its accredited hospitals, The Joint Commission addresses the need for utility failure procedures under its Standard EC.02.05.01, which requires that utility system risks be managed.  Element of Performance (EP) 9 requires that written procedures be prepared for responding to utility system disruptions.  EP-10 requires that the procedures address shutting off the malfunctioning system and notifying staff in affected areas. EP-11 requires that the procedures address performing emergency clinical interventions during the utility systems disruptions.  EP-12 requires that the procedures address how to obtain emergency repair services.  And finally Direct Impact EP-13 requires that responses to utility system disruptions be as described within the applicable utility failure procedures.

For an actual emergency response to be as described within the utility failure procedure the procedure itself has to pass the reality test at that instant.  We recommend that readers take a close look at existing utility failure procedures for this reason alone.  Please feel free to contact the writer at if you have questions on this article or the referenced HFM Magazine article.