COVID-19 has seen the need to convert existing patient care spaces within hospitals to serve infectious patient care space as well as set up temporary healthcare facilities utilizing either existing non-healthcare buildings or some form of modular solution. Existing patient care spaces within hospitals often have easy accessibility to the hospitals existing essential electrical system to serve emergency power needs. This makes converting these patient care spaces for needs such as ICU’s or infectious patient care more straightforward to modify as long as adequate spare capacity is available within the infrastructure to serve the increased electrical demands.
The conversion of the non-healthcare buildings to temporary healthcare facilities present challenges on the emergency power distribution side to ensure that emergency power is adequate and reliable. The existing buildings currently being converted or evaluated for transition to temporary healthcare facilities include hotels, arenas, and convention centers. Additionally, modular solutions such as trailers and shipping containers are quickly becoming options since they are quick to set up and can be relocated as the demand within a city or state changes.
When considering converting non-healthcare buildings into temporary healthcare facilities for COVID-19 or some other future healthcare crisis, the existing emergency power infrastructure and the reliability of that infrastructure need to be considered. These buildings don’t have emergency systems set up like a traditional hospital which include an essential electrical system consisting of (3) branches (life safety, critical, and equipment) in accordance with NEC Article 517. Additionally, modular solutions need to be provided with both normal and emergency electrical systems. Although these facilities are temporary, they still need to be as reliable as possible to treat patients and provide a safe work environment for the healthcare providers treating those patients. As such, emergency power is just as important in these temporary facilities as it would be in a hospital.
Hotels aren’t typically set up with emergency infrastructure (unless they are high rises), therefore, a temporary trailer will need to be provided to serve the emergency electrical system as necessary depending on the function of the temporary healthcare facility (critical care vs. general care).
Arenas and convention centers are usually provided with emergency power systems set up to meet the requirements of Article 700 (Emergency System), 701 (Legally Required Standby Systems), and 702 (Optional Standby System). This means egress lighting and a portion of the HVAC systems throughout the building will be supplied from the existing generator, but existing branch circuitry that could be used to serve new patient care spaces isn’t likely going to already be on generator power. A trailer mounted generator can be provided to either support critical branch circuits or provide additional reliability to the to the existing utility service. The trailer mounted generator can also be utilized to provide emergency power to temporary HVAC systems being utilized to provide negative pressure areas.
When a modular solution is utilized near an existing hospital, the existing normal and essential electrical systems can be extended from the hospital. The extension of these services is assuming the hospital has sufficient electrical capacity to support the modular facilities. If the hospital doesn’t, trailer mounted generators should be utilized to support the life safety, critical, and equipment branches.
Modular units can also be implemented remote to hospitals, which also provide challenges for delivering normal and emergency power. Although temporary power can be provided from the utility to serve the normal power in these scenarios, it can often be difficult to schedule and get temporary utility power running quickly. Therefore, the normal and emergency power should be provided from multiple generators.
There are certainly more considerations to take into account when setting up temporary facilities beyond the infrastructure but providing a reliable emergency electrical system is critical to the effectiveness of the facility. Therefore, whichever temporary healthcare facility option chosen, special care should be taken in evaluating and setting up the distribution system.
Cameron Bellao, PE, LEED AP
Associate Principal / Electrical Engineering Manager