What started as an initiative in one state is expanding into a national effort to ensure emergency power resiliency at critical health care facilities.

Powered for Patients, which formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, has created a network of public health leaders, utilities, health care facility managers and other stakeholders to help safeguard backup power and expedite power restoration for hospitals.

In March, the Department of Homeland Security provided the program with funding to bolster power resiliency at health care facilities in Rhode Island by addressing key issues. The group has been working to identify gaps in the protection of backup power systems and utility restoration processes, and to develop plans for closing those gaps while exploring new technologies in power generation and delivery.

Powered for Patients is taking lessons learned from this statewide initiative and working again with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Health & Human Services to establish a national working group to create protocols for information sharing among hospitals, governments and utilities.

“Our goal is to work with states of varying sizes and populations, as well as states that experience different types of threats,” says Eric Cote, project director. “For example, our East Coast-focused work will be largely addressing hurricane threats that are with-notice events. Work we conduct on the West Coast will deal with earthquake threats for which there is no notice.”

The group also wants to work with states with various types of government structures. For example, some states give significant authority to local or county governments regarding public health preparedness issues while others defer to a state public health or emergency management office.

“Working across these different states will help us to understand how the challenges of safeguarding emergency power may be different based on unique circumstances and help to inform strategies tailored to a particular state,” Cote says.

As it builds a national network, Powered for Patients is waiting on results from its Emergency Power System Vulnerability Assessment that was developed in partnership with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and the state’s Department of Health. It was sent to facility managers at all of the state’s hospitals. What they learn during this survey will help them to develop an established protocol for information sharing.

“There may be issues we uncover that warrant a different type of protocol beyond information sharing,” Cote says. “For example, one of the questions we’ve asked each hospital is who their generator service provider is and if they have a backup service provider. We’ve asked the same about fuel providers. We are probing to determine if there is an overdependence of a narrow group of service providers in a geographic area that could become a problem in a disaster.”

As feedback is received, the group has learned that situational awareness capabilities will play a big factor in reaching its goal to establish a national information-sharing network. This network can aid in the timely deployment of resources during disasters, thereby limiting the disaster’s impact on care delivery. Advanced remote monitoring technologies can provide near real-time operating status data, while emerging predictive failure tools can monitor a range of indicators to help detect failures before they occur.

“FEMA has over 1,000 temporary generators that can be deployed to hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, water systems, shelters, etc., in a disaster,” Cote explains. “One of the benefits to enhanced situational awareness and better information sharing between hospitals and government is the potential to expedite deployment of generators from the federal fleet. Even saving half a day in the amount of time to set up a temporary replacement generator could make the difference between an evacuation or no evacuation.”

Experts in the field who are interested in joining the national working group should contact Powered for Patients.