Critical infrastructure tips for hospitals

Hospitals must adapt their business continuity plans so that the technology they have become dependent on doesn’t cripple them during an outage, contends Emerson Network Power.

Coming out of a winter marked by extreme weather events, Emerson Network Power (NYSE: EMR), a specialist in maximizing data center critical infrastructure, has composed six tips to help technology-dependent hospitals provide uninterrupted service during extended outages.

“We continue to see examples of facilities that are up to code but could not maintain service during extended outages," notes Bhavesh Patel, director of marketing at Emerson Network Power’s ASCO Power business. "Hospitals must adapt their business continuity plans so that the technology they have become dependent on doesn’t cripple them during an outage.”

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Six ways hospitals can adapt their business continuity plans to current technology and expectations, according to Emerson, include the following:

1.Redefine business critical.

Backup power systems have been extended to protect operating rooms and other critical facilities, allowing them to continue to function during outages. But hospitals also need to be able to accept patients during extreme weather events. Will parking lots and other exterior lighting be working? What about food services? In an extended outage just about every hospital system becomes critical.

2.Know your dependencies.

Many hospitals are turning to cloud-based services for data storage or application delivery. Not all cloud providers have the same high-availability infrastructure or business continuity plans. Your cloud providers are an extension of your IT department; their business continuity plans are your business continuity plans.

3. Expect the worst.

How do you know UPS batteries are fully charged? Have facility teams practiced disaster events? Exploring what-if scenarios, such as a breaker failing to open or a generator failing to start, can improve contingency planning while testing and monitoring reduces the chances systems don’t perform as expected. Remote monitoring provides the visibility to enable a more proactive approach to system maintenance and can be used to test systems during off-hours, minimizing risk during peak hours. It also allows execution of contingency plans to meet challenges from an impending disaster. Going above the NFPA / Joint Commission minimums will help ensure you’re ready for anything.

4.Reexamine how long backup systems need to support the business.

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the need for healthcare facilities to be able to operate for days without power. Keeping food services and other support systems functioning is part of the solution. Another consideration is generator fuel. Not only do you need an ample reserve, you have to be sure you can access it during a disaster.

5.Don’t cannibalize backup systems to support growth.

Many hospital data centers are now bursting with an influx of patient and imaging data, often consuming more power than may have been projected just two years ago. Has the backup power system kept pace or have “less critical” systems, such as lighting and cooling, been sacrificed to support growth? Backup power must be scalable enough to keep pace with expected growth while maintaining protection to all essential systems. Knowing what facility applications are aligned to which backup power system helps management prioritize in the event that they need to shed loads during a prolonged outage.

6. Your backup may need a backup.

You won’t find a major financial institution that doesn’t employ redundancy in its backup systems. This same philosophy needs to extend to healthcare. Backup power systems protecting business-critical systems should employ some degree of redundancy so that the failure of one backup unit does not bring down the protected system.

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