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Compliance News: Utility Failure Procedures

| David Stymiest

Most hospitals have utility failure procedures for major utility systems or equipment.  However many utility failure plans have room for improvement, particularly in how they deal with common-mode failure potential within those utility systems.

The HFM Magazine article How to Plan for Water Outages published in early 2015 referenced an excellent document published by the US Centers for Disease Control with input from many industry stakeholders.

An ASHE 2007 conference white paper entitled Planning for Power Failures provided input based upon lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and several other natural and man-made disasters up to that year.

The 2014 updated ASHE Management Monograph entitled Managing Hospital Emergency Power Systems: Testing, Operation, Maintenance, Vulnerability Mitigation, and Power Failure Planning provided input based also on lessons learned from the 2012 Super Storm Sandy.

The above publications discuss finding utility system vulnerabilities and addressing those vulnerabilities, particularly addressing the common-mode vulnerabilities within the utility failure procedures.  A common-mode failure is the failure of two or more systems or components due to a single event or cause.

Robust utility failure procedures should consider not only equipment capacity redundancies and commonalities, but also redundancies and commonalities in location, distribution, and necessary functions such as power and controls.

Examples of single failure points that should be considered within utility failure procedures are listed below.  These situations and other similar issues are not uncommon because of capital funding restrictions.

  • A common fuel oil header serving multiple fuel oil storage tanks
  • A dual fuel oil pump skid with one power source and one control panel
  • Multiple generators whose necessary auxiliary equipment is all powered by one power source
  • Backup boiler controls that receive power from the same power source as the primary boiler controls
  • Any redundant utility system equipment that is connected to the same distribution pathways
  • Redundant system components that are located within the same space
  • A single natural gas supply line serving redundant boilers
  • A single high-pressure steam line that distributes steam from all available boilers
  • A building automation system and/or air temperature control system that controls redundant equipment or redundant systems
  • A common chilled water pipe (primary or secondary) that serves redundant chillers
  • A common cooling tower that serves or header that serves redundant chillers
  • An electrical switchboard that provides power to redundant components
  • An automatic transfer switch that provides power to redundant components
  • A single medical gas main distribution line that serves multiple medical gas risers

Utility failure procedures that consider common-mode failure points and establish reasonable responses to those failures can assist the hospital in better serving its patients during challenging internal failure scenarios.

Questions about the content of this article may be directed to the author, David Stymiest, PE, CHFM, CHSP, FASHE, at

NFPA Disclaimer: Although the writer is chairman of the NFPA Technical Committee on Emergency Power Supplies, which is responsible for NFPA 110 and 111, the views and opinions expressed in this article are purely the writer’s own and shall not be considered the official position of NFPA or any of its technical committees, and shall not be considered to be, nor be relied upon as, a formal interpretation of any discussed or referenced standards.