As kids, we were all a little scared of the dark. But when the lights go out in your hospital facilities, how much more afraid of the dark are you now?

Some hospital facility directors may feel safe because they perform monthly and annual testing per code (NFPA 99 and NFPA 110), and have reliable utility power. Yet, they are missing the hidden dangers. Unfortunately, following code procedures only confirms the operational condition of equipment. It does not provide assurance of the reliability of the system.

FreemanWhite advised a hospital whose Emergency Power System (EPS) failed during an internal test. Staff cut the power to corridor lighting so the inspector could witness the egress lighting. After throwing the breaker, they all stood together in the dark…..5 seconds…10 seconds….30 seconds….and nothing happened. As you might expect, they failed the inspection.

How could this happen when the hospital conducted every required monthly and yearly NFPA test? The facility director suspected staff were not performing the tests properly. After further research and testing, we learned that a voltage regulator was the culprit. The generators started, but could not synchronize and the load never transferred.

Why was this not discovered during monthly testing? It is because these tests do not always uncover issues with reliability. So, how were tests performed? Staff tested the individual generators using the test switches on the automatic transfer switches. This is permissible by code. But they were not testing the synchronization of all the generators. And, the generator controller did not have the ability to log problems as they occurred.
After replacing the voltage regulators, we wrote a new set of testing procedures. These helped the facility ensure they were in fact testing reliability.

Are testing procedures the primary problem when generators fail? Absolutely not. Countless issues may arise:

  • Was an Emergency Power Off (EPO) button reset correctly? Do hospital maintenance staff understand the procedures required to reset it?
  • Are generator alarm panels connected properly? It is surprising how many are not.

  • Are life safety loads transferring with the first generator that comes online?

  • Are storage batteries connected properly?

These are just a few of the items inspected by the Department of Health Services and Regulations (DHSR) in North Carolina. In fact, most regulatory agencies we encounter across the country use a similar checklist. After all, these are life safety systems.

An electrical engineer with commissioning credentials and EPS system expertise can help you overcome your fear of the dark. EPS failure can have serious consequences. Life safety systems including ventilators, medical gasses, egress lighting, fire alarm systems, and other life-critical systems connect to the EPS. Lives are at risk if one or more generators do not operate correctly during a utility outage. While failing an inspection is a serious matter, loss of life from unreliable equipment is unacceptable.

Don’t find yourself in the dark, lest you end up in a well-lit courtroom.