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Emergency Power Needs & Changes for Healthcare Facilities Due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has truly impacted our lives personally, professionally, nationally, and globally. Most disasters in the past have affected certain areas, regions, or nations. Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Sandy come to mind but then other catastrophes surface such as the tsunamis that plagued Japan and India. In all these cases, other unaffected countries (whether near or far) could send support in the form of food, water, workers, and other provisions to help rebuild the devastated area(s).

Today, other countries’ abilities to respond have been stunted with COVID-19, because unlike those calamities mentioned above, COVID-19 affects the entire world. What happens when the sense of touch carries great weight with food, water, and people? In that same vein, how do we respond when people are afraid to help because this disease has communicable characteristics? Hospitals are filled with front-line workers trying to help sick people heal and live. They need power to carry out their daily operations but what if power was lost due to a natural disaster, human intervention, or lack of fuel for the generator?

Diesel only Generator, Typically used by healthcare facilities.

If power were interrupted to a hospital, typically a generator would start to provide basic electrical services so that it can function during this outage. Codes require that a hospital generator have an onsite fuel supply for its operation. Typically, this involves using diesel generators because they have an attached fuel tank versus natural gas generators which have no attached gas tank and rely on a public utility gas connection. The diesel generator, if maintained properly, should give the benefits needed for maintaining a hospital during a power outage. As long as diesel fuel is available in the unit it works but what happens as the fuel is consumed? The diesel supply lowers and if not refueled in time, the generator will stop working and cause hospital operations to cease if normal power has not been restored. In times like today, where travel is restricted, essential workers are only allowed to work, and hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients creating fears to even visit them for non-healthcare related tasks (i.e. refueling a generator), it is time to institute a different approach to back-up generation.

One suggestion is to use a bi-fuel generator which uses both diesel and natural gas. The diesel gas complies with NFPA 70 and 110 which require on-site fuel supply. This starts the generator and ascertains that the connected loads transfer in the correct time intervals. After the generator reaches a set temperature, the natural gas is infused and a mix of both gases (about 75% natural vs. 25% diesel) powers the generator. Large fuel tanks (needed for diesel engines) are not required with a bi-fuel system. Being that natural gas requires a utility supply connection, it reduces the need to refill the diesel gas so quickly compared to a diesel only generator thus limiting fuel suppliers’ communication risks when refueling at hospitals. Additionally, countermeasures could be created to assist in refueling when conditions like COVID-19 are present. Another benefit to this system is reduced carbon emissions into the environment. Natural gas burns cleaner than diesel so the mixture of the two gives a cleaner output versus the diesel only generator.

Written by:

Damario Mack

Electrical Department Manager


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