Utility failure risks in the physical environment can include electricity, lighting, domestic water, medical gases, vacuum, HVAC, air pressure, domestic water, fire sprinkler and alarm, nurse call, security and access control, computer networks, refrigeration, steam, natural gas, sewer and wastewater, vertical transportation, medical equipment and myriad other specialty systems all needed to properly care for patients and to perform daily operations.

These failures can not only have a significant impact on patients but also on the ability of staff to perform patient care. While risks of utility failures are inherent due to the mechanical nature of the systems, equipment and environments that are necessary to provide patient care, one of the best ways to manage these risks is to assess and evaluate the potential risks with a multidisciplinary team.

By identifying individuals who can help develop failure response plans — especially in relation to clinical services — and cooperatively working together to develop the necessary actions needed during a failure, facility professionals and their teams can be more confident that they have minimized any potential harm for patients.

There are also several tools and websites available to assist in the development of utility failure plans. One site that is available from the Department of Health & Human Services is Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (TRACIE), developed and maintained by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. 

TRACIE was created to meet the information and technical assistance needs of individuals who work in health care emergency preparedness. It serves as an information gateway to improve preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation efforts. 

While many of the resources on this website are directed toward emergency preparedness and response, a search of the word utility on the website provides dozens of results regarding utility failure. One in particular is the “Planning for Power Outages: A Guide for Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities” document. This document provides guidance for how to prepare for power outages and gives a good format for the development of other utility failure tools.