September 6, 2006—The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (Oakbrook Terrace, Ill) issued a Sentinel Event Alert today beseeching health care organizations to be aware of how emergency power system failures can affect patient care and offering recommendations for creating contingency plans. The recommendations are a response to reports on recent national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina, during which emergency power systems proved inadequate to cool or ventilate health care facilities.

“Health care facilities are highly dependent upon reliable electrical power; but recent experiences show that emergency power systems are not always sufficient during a major catastrophe,” Dennis S. O’Leary, MD, president of the Joint Commission, said in a press release. “These organizations must recognize the potential fragility of external electrical power sources and their own emergency generator systems, and develop appropriate contingency plans that can be activated when needed.”

The Alert offers the following recommendations:

·        Match the critical equipment and systems needed in an extended emergency against the equipment and systems actually on the emergency power system.
·        Inventory emergency power systems and the loads they serve.
·        Provide training for, and test, those who operate and maintain the emergency power supply system.
·        Ensure that generator fuel is available and usable.
·        Assure that the organization management and clinical leaders know how long emergency power will be available and what locations within the facility will and will not have emergency power in the event of an electrical outage.
·        Establish contingency plans for doctors and other caregivers to follow during losses of electrical power.

The Joint Commission will also require, beginning in 2007, that organizations test their emergency power systems at least once every 36 months for a minimum of four hours; facilities are already required to test 12 times a year for 30 minutes.

—Cat Vasko