November 8, 2011
One government study found that power outages resulting from disasters and structural problems ranged in time from one to 52 hours. Even one hour can be a long time for critical areas such as the OR and ICU. According to NFPA-110 Level 1 regulations for Lighting and Critical equipment, the load must be picked up by an emergency generator within 10 seconds (see section 126.96.36.199 of the Life Safety Code, www.nfpa.org). Because of this, monitoring and other critical equipment should have a battery backup system capable of maintaining their functionality for at least 30 seconds or long enough for the emergency generator to kick in.
But, even with emergency generators, total power failures may occur, so life support systems, such as ventilators and cardio bypass systems, fall under more stringent requirements of CISPR 11; CSA; IEC 60601-1, 60601-2, and 60601-2-12; and UL. Under these codes, life support systems require a minimum battery backup of one hour. But, how does this translate to real world usage?
I did some checking in the MD Buyline database for ventilator power requirements and found that most models are rated for one hour with internal battery and four hours with an external battery. A study performed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center found that the actual battery life on the tested ventilators with internal batteries ranged from 20.5 – 170.5 min. When the compressor was used, battery-duration range dropped to 5 – 69 min.
Battery capabilities under different circumstances are something clinicians should beware of. I suggest considering external battery packs if you are in an area prone to power failures. But, there is a lot to consider. Visit AHRQ’s disaster self-assessment for an idea how other hospitals have prepared for the worst.
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