Washington, D.C. – In addition to fatalities and serious injuries, other common casualties in Hurricanes Maria, Matthew, Sandy and Katrina were hospital emergency power systems. They suffered failures that ranged from debilitating to catastrophic, triggered by mechanical problems, extreme flooding or a lack of fuel. The partial or total loss of emergency power at numerous hospitals in Hurricanes Sandy and Matthew triggered emergency evacuations. Generator failures following Hurricane Katrina were blamed for patient fatalities.
Today, a new effort is underway to tap a powerful yet under-leveraged technology that will provide government officials and utilities with the first-ever near real time, automated warning when emergency power is threatened at a hospital or other critical healthcare facility grappling with an extended power outage.
This early warning of a threat to emergency power will be provided through a new online tool being developed by the non-profit Powered for Patients with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Risk Management Center, through the National Infrastructure Protection Program Security & Resilience Challenge, which is implemented by the National Institute for Homeland Security (NIHS). The Security & Resilience Challenge program invests in promising technologies that can help government and the private sector tackle some of the more daunting challenges of disaster planning and response.
The early warning of a threat to emergency power provided by the dashboard can be a gamechanger, enabling emergency managers to accelerate deployment of government generators and generator fuel. Government transport for private generator service teams unable to navigate road closures in getting to client sites could be marshalled faster. Armed with near real time warning of a threat to emergency power at a critical facility, utilities could shift restoration priorities to restore utility power before emergency power is lost. Success by government agencies or utilities in their respective efforts to aid a stricken facility would protect patients, including some of the most vulnerable, whose ability to endure hasty evacuations is often precarious.
Mechanical fault detection and automated reporting technology is the cornerstone of the prototype developed by Powered for Patients through the DHS contract. This technology is being connected to emergency power systems in increasing numbers by hospitals, water systems, waste water treatment plants and cell tower operators across the U.S. The slightest mechanical hiccup or a low fuel level triggers an automated, real time notification via text or email, alerting facility managers and their service providers to any situation requiring immediate attention. This technology also has advanced capabilities that can diagnose a serious problem remotely, a powerful capability for unmanned facilities like cell towers and pumping stations for water and waste water treatment systems.
Despite the growing use of this advanced technology, no hospital, water system or waste water treatment plant in the U.S. has shared this valuable data stream with government officials or utilities. The primary reason: they’ve never been asked. That’s changing thanks the Department of Homeland Security funding provided to Powered for Patients, the 501c3 non-profit created after Hurricane Sandy to better safeguard emergency power and accelerate utility power restoration for critical healthcare facilities impacted by disaster.
Since the majority of U.S. hospitals do not use fault detection and automated reporting technology, the emergency power reporting Dashboard is being designed to receive manually submitted reports. This design feature will enable every hospital in the U.S. to use the Dashboard along with skilled nursing facilities and large dialysis centers, neither of which generally use the advanced fault detection and automated reporting technology for their emergency power systems.
Among the challenges vexing emergency responders and public health preparedness officials has been limited situational awareness about the status of back-up power at hospitals and other critical infrastructure. In past incidents where hospital emergency power has been threatened, communications from impacted facilities to government officials and utilities seeking assistance has been disjointed and oftentimes delayed. Rarely has a notification of a threat to emergency power been provided at the first sign of trouble, a reality that deprives government officials and utilities of a head start that could make the difference between hospitals having to evacuate or not.
Technology Company Competitors Join Forces to Make Real Time Data Sharing a Reality
Among the early accomplishments of the Powered for Patients project was enlisting many of the major providers of mechanical fault detection and automated reporting systems as active participants in the initiative. The companies include Automated Logic Corporation, a subsidiary of United Technology Corporation, Blue Pillar, Eaton and Schneider-Electric.
While generally competitors on any given day, these companies are working jointly with Powered for Patients to help address the technology challenges associated with providing real time or near real time status reports to government officials and utilities. Since each of these companies provides its clients with their own type of alerts when emergency power is threatened, the Powered for Patients project will achieve another milestone by having its Dashboard synthesize each company’s data streams into a single data stream populating its online dashboard with red, yellow, green threat level indicator. This dashboard will provide government officials and utilities with a quick-glance view of unfolding threats to emergency power as well as updates on the status of response activities.
To achieve this ambitious goal, Powered for Patients has partnered with Talus Analytics, a women-owned business that specializes in translating complex data into actionable information. Led by PhD-level scientists with experience in real-time operations support, Talus has extensive experience coordinating data sharing and facilitating effective, data-driven decision making. Talus has done previous work for DHS and FEMA and is currently providing support to the CDC on another project related to sharing hospital status information with government officials to enhance disaster response.
Stakeholder Engagement Process Helps Create New Protocol Needed to Govern Real Time Information Sharing
As part of its Security & Resilience Challenge project, Powered for Patients launched a stakeholder engagement initiative to elicit input on pressing questions around how real time generator status reports from hospitals will be shared with government officials and utilities. A key consideration has been balancing privacy concerns of facilities with the need to give government officials and utilities enough real time or near real time information to enable accelerated response. Powered for Patients has worked with the four technology providers to develop an information sharing approach in which no hospital emergency power status data will actually be shared with Powered for Patients. Instead, these fault detection and automated reporting companies will provide a data feed on behalf of their clients through a secure Application Program Interface (API) that provides only the status information needed to populate the Dashboard’s red, yellow, green threat level indicator.
Input was sought from government officials and hospitals to inform the development of a voluntary protocol to govern communications and response activities of these stakeholders when real time or near real time alerts about threats to emergency power are transmitted through the Dashboard.
A number of hospitals and hospital systems across the country have engaged with Powered for Patients on the project. Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio and Texas Health Resources, a 14-hospital health system in Texas, have signed on as a pilot sites to test live data sharing, a key step before the data sharing protocol can be finalized. UCI Health, part of the University of California Health System, will be providing input on the new information sharing protocol and is assessing opportunities to engage as a pilot test site. Huntington Hospital in Pasadena will also be helping with the development of the new information sharing protocol as will the Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles.
Powered for Patients is working closely with the American Hospital Association (AHA), and its professional membership group, the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE), to recruit additional facilities for the project. AHA and ASHE also provided input on the creation of the voluntary protocol that will govern emergency power status sharing by hospitals with government officials and utilities through the Dashboard. State hospital associations taking an active role include the California Hospital Association, the Florida Hospital Association and the Texas Hospital Association.
To help ensure input from local and state emergency managers and public health officials on the information sharing protocol, Powered for Patients has partnered with the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).
“Powered for Patients is grateful to the many stakeholders that are working closely with us to help leverage life-saving technology in an unprecedented way,” said Eric Cote, Project Director and Founder of Powered for Patients. “Having hospitals and other critical health care facilities share real time or near real time generator status reports with government officials and utilities during a disaster through our Dashboard represents a major breakthrough in improving situational awareness. Adding to this success by synthesizing multiple vendor data streams into a single data stream that populates the dashboard with a threat level indicator will be a groundbreaking accomplishment.”
Cote credited the technology companies involved in the project for making major contributions to the initiative. “We applaud the technology companies that have worked closely with us to share valuable information about their technology along with their insights on how our Dashboard synthesizing their data feeds can be optimally developed,” said Cote. “We look forward to continuing our work with these companies beyond the current project to help commercialize the prototype we’re developing to enable all critical facilities using fault detection and automated reporting technology to share near real time data with government officials and utilities.”