This post is an excerpt taken from our complementary ebook, The Emergency Preparedness Professional’s Guide to Planning for Hospital Supply Line Disruptions.


Recent natural disasters, such as Winter Storm Elliott, have demonstrated that hospitals can suffer crippling blows during times of crisis. But at the same time, hospitals are expected to provide continuous and safe patient care amidst these challenges.

This can only occur if hospitals have access to needed supplies and equipment to maintain normal operations and accommodate a potential patient surge. The Joint Commission requires that hospitals have enough supply to be self-sufficient for at least 96 hours. A well-thought-out disaster preparedness or emergency operations plan will address the hospital supply chain to ensure this continuous provision, even when typical supply lines are disrupted.


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Systems affected during an emergency or disaster

Whether the result of natural or manmade causes, a disaster can impact many systems within the hospital and should be accounted for within your emergency operations plan. Let’s take a look at each system in more depth and present strategies to minimize supply disruption.


Electrical Power

When electrical power loss occurs within a hospital, the effect can be immediate and tremendous. Countless systems are dependent on electricity to function—lighting, critical medical equipment, computers, elevators, air conditioning, and so on. And although hospitals have backup generators to protect them from this, there is much to be considered to ensure they will function properly in time of need.


The Joint Commission requires that emergency power is supplied to areas in which loss of power could result in harm to the patient, but it does not specify where generators should be placed. The best location for a generator is dependent on the area in which the hospital resides and what weather risks are most likely.


Facilities in flood-prone areas should not have a generator in the basement, and Tornado Alley hospitals should not place their generators on the highest level. Your hospital’s Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) should help guide you in choosing the best location. If feasible, having multiple generators in different areas of the building is ideal.

Regular inspection, maintenance, and testing of your hospital’s generators are extremely important. According to the Joint Commission standards, the generators and their automatic transfer switches should be tested 12 times per year, for 30 minutes at a time, and tested once every three years for four hours.


Additionally, consider that in an extreme emergency, your generators may require enough fuel to power them for days. Make sure that your emergency plan addresses not only how you will obtain an adequate amount of fuel but also how it will be delivered if elevators and normal methods of transport are not functioning.


Even with the best-laid plans, a generator may fail to work in an emergency. In this case, hospitals should be prepared to manage critically ill patients with battery-powered or manually-powered equipment.


Make sure all intubated patients have a bag-valve mask at their bedsides so that they can be hand-ventilated if necessary. Keep a ready supply of battery-powered portable suction units available for these patients as well. Flashlights will be needed in patient care areas and for moving around hospital corridors.


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Questions to consider:

  • How many days of fuel do you have on hand?
  • How does your hospital get extra fuel?
  • When did you last test your generator?
  • Do you have a strong supply of manual and battery-powered equipment (including spare batteries) in the event of a total power failure?


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in February 2016. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.