Power systems

Winter power warnings – can you ensure your business continuity?

Halloween. Fireworks. Christmas.

It’s that time of year again.

When shopping channels seem to have been selling Christmas gifts since Easter, now is the time for the healthcare sector to consider its critical standby power system resilience in advance of winter.

It is hard to avoid the headlines in the media, especially as the National Grid themselves have issued warnings that the nation’s electrical infrastructure may be hard pushed this year to meet increasing levels of demand. There has even been talk of 1970s style ‘power rationing’ in the news with the BBC reporting that the UK is seeking extra electricity ahead of winter (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29038804 for more information).

Is it media scaremongering?   Can the healthcare sector afford to gamble and take the risk if power is in short supply?

The simple answer is no. But if you are responsible for a healthcare site such as a private or public sector hospital or care home, how can you ensure business continuity?   There is expertise available to help you check whether your site will survive the winter, but like most things in life, it’s knowing who to ask and who can be trusted.

We asked Paul, Director of P & I, specialists in critical standby power systems, what would be the best advice for a site considering their business continuity and power planning.

P & I work directly with NHS Trusts, such as Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, as well as with London Ambulance Service NHS Trust 999 Response Centre. They also work in partnership with Kier, Covion, Graham and other major facilities management companies across the UK in a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, defence, leisure, retail and utilities.

Paul Benfield says, “Trust for a business like ours is paramount. Customers must have the confidence of knowing that the power at their site will keep running in all weathers and that they will have support at any hour of the day or night.”

His advice is simple – a good preventative service and maintenance cycle. These can prevent budgetary impact further down the line and ensure that the site is fit for purpose.

“Healthcare sites should always have a call-out contract; it just makes sense,” Paul says. “If your site power fails at 2am on Christmas Eve and you get the call, how can it be fixed if you have no contract support?”

Waking the ‘sleeping bear’

A generator and UPS system is a costly bit of capital expenditure and ever tighter budgets can often mean that critical standby power is viewed as a ‘sleeping bear’, best left alone and undisturbed. But at the point of failure, the question always asked is why the bear stayed soundly asleep instead of leaping into action to provide the standby power needed for a site.

“October to March is our busiest time in terms of supporting healthcare sites,” Paul says. “There is sometimes an assumption that critical standby power takes care of itself once installed. But even if the installation has been in place for a number of years, issues such as an increase in demand for power at site can arise. This could cause problems if the standby power systems are no longer correctly rated and sized, meaning that a site is no longer correctly supported.”

Paul continues, “One of our key strengths is our close working partnership with customers and our intimate knowledge of their sites. We always undertake a five point ‘health check’ at our on-site survey and review the past service and maintenance cycle. Simple things, such as a more frequent load bank test for a generator and battery impedance testing for UPS batteries, can tell us a lot about the performance of a generator and UPS.   These are mechanical and electrical pieces of kit and are not designed to last for ever so also need to be budgeted for in the replacement cycle.”

Take the P & I power health check

The simple questions to ask are as follows, says Paul:

  • If the site power failed, what would be the impact at site? Who is responsible?
  • Would life be endangered if medical equipment could not be supported?
  • What would happen if the failure was out of office hours? Who would be called out?
  • What systems/infrastructure does the standby power need to support?
  • What does the site define as critical to be powered in the event of failure?
  • How long would the standby power need to run for?
  • What IT systems need to stay online?
  • Would a hire generator be needed on-site in the event of failure? If so, what size? Is there access for transport to site? What cabling will be required? What size fuel tank? Where will it go?
  • Would there be access to a hire set in the event that the power failed in the area or UK- wide? What would the back-up plan be in the event that this happened and no hire set could be hired locally?
  • Is there a business continuity plan in place specifically for critical standby power support?

Plan for failure

One thing is sure, if you run a healthcare sector building, it is better to be ready for what may happen, rather than waiting to see if the power fails.

“If a schematic is available for a larger site (or if there are multiple sites) we will look at these and work out exactly what is needed,” Paul says. “That way, you can ‘plan for failure’. That may sound odd, but you have more control if you plan in advance and consider the impact of possible failure, rather than waiting for the power to fail and being reactive.”

Power solutions

The real test of a critical standby power company’s response and support is when power issues happen and it is ‘all hands to the pump’. This aspect of P & I’s service plays a key part in their success.

The company has experienced exponential growth in the healthcare sector and as a business, doubling turnover and profit in the last two years, a performance that is set to be repeated over the next three years.

This family-owned business prides itself on its reputation in the industry as power problem solvers, offering an unbeatable service. Last year, P & I’s average call-out response time for both new and contract customers was just two hours.

When contacting the company, it is clear that the family ethos of inclusion and support runs throughout the business – you will always speak to a ‘real person’, not a helpdesk or automated service.

Be prepared

If last winter’s flooding was an indication of what may come this year, then as a nation, we need to be prepared for the power supply to fluctuate and, in certain cases, our personal reliance on technology and devices may be kerbed due to power shortage.

This personal inconvenience will, however, be nothing compared to what will happen if our hospitals, care homes and emergency services buildings have no power.

So make sure you are prepared this winter – whatever happens.

P & I’s healthcare sector specialists, Jon Terzza and Rebecca Lodge, offer immediate support and expert advice either over the phone or on-site (contact details below).

P & I also have a useful live chat facility on their website (www.powerandinstallation.co.uk), where you can instantly speak/message the team online in real time and get free advice.

You can even use the live chat facility to have an engineer despatched to site*, or to ask for a quote for hire, parts or maintenance, or request a site survey.

Visit: www.powerandinstallation.co.uk and use the live chat online

Email: info@pandigenerators.co.uk or Telephone: 023 9278 3450

*subject to engineer availability, pre-payment/contract and P & I terms of business (available on request)

This article appeared as the cover story for the September issue of Building & Facilities Management.
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