By Ed Spears

To say 2020 has been an extraordinary year is an understatement. Meteorologists have tracked more named storms in the Atlantic Ocean than any other year. Wildfires have ravaged parts of California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado. All of this has taken place amid a global pandemic that has pushed hospital capacity to its limits.

Natural disasters have always threatened healthcare facilities with unexpected outages, but the growing frequency of such events has put a new spotlight on power management infrastructure. Prolonged blackouts can significantly impact hospitals’ ability to treat patients effectively while also causing severe financial and operational impacts. With additional waves of COVID-19 cases bearing down on the United States and hospitalizations continuing to rise, any amount of downtime is unthinkable.

Fortunately, advancements in power management technologies have emerged to help guard healthcare facilities and drive continuous patient care. Now is the time for hospitals to assess current capabilities and examine opportunities to strengthen their infrastructure against future disasters.

Enter: UPS Technology

Power failures can happen at any time due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. 

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can deliver reliable power during outages so critical infrastructure stays up and running. With the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Type 110 requiring hospitals and critical-care facilities to install and maintain backup generators that start within 10 seconds of a primary power outage, UPSs serve as an essential bridge for ensuring the ability to deliver continuous patient care.

Beyond patient care implications, UPSs have significant benefits for protecting medical technology investments. Always-on power plays an essential role in safeguarding equipment from power anomalies and downtime that could lead to costly repairs or early replacement. The cost of purchasing a UPS may initially seem daunting, but in reality, it costs less than the losses associated with any significant operational downtime.

Enhancing UPS functionality, power monitoring and management solutions offer healthcare administrators the ability to remotely monitor anything from a single UPS to multiple units across a distributed healthcare network with an array of devices and components from different manufacturers. These solutions offer a broad spectrum of advantages that yield optimized power, including enhanced efficiency, improved data protection, and lower overall costs.

Emerging Innovations in Power Management

With the benefits of UPSs and associated power management software established, it’s important for hospitals to understand advances made in power technology that can better help to proactively respond to disasters and weather the pandemic in the long-term. These include: 

  • Lithium-ion batteries: Recently introduced for UPS applications, these batteries serve as a valuable replacement option for traditional valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries. They provide several benefits for UPSs, including offering an eight to 10-year life cycle compared to VRLA batteries—which generally need to be replaced every three to five years—and faster recharge rates. Additionally, as health networks become more distributed and off-site urgent care facilities grow, the longer battery lifespan offered with lithium-ion technology makes work easier to ensure continuous power for those remote “edge” environments with little to no onsite IT staff.
  • Power monitoring software: Healthcare environments demand consistent power, and to manage power anomalies properly, software is critical. The good news is that software continues to evolve with enhanced capabilities for gleaning insights into potential electrical infrastructure issues. Dashboards can send near real-time data on system status, as well as show individual device-level details, providing information about how each device or location is performing. All the information can be accessed from mobile phones, tablets, or computers. The data provided by this software gives hospital network administrators the insights they need to take action to protect critical power systems in the event of a disaster.
  • Predictive analytics services: Another recent advancement, predictive analytics have emerged that use sensors in UPSs to help anticipate failure of critical components before it occurs. This transitions maintenance processes from reactive to proactive. By acting before problems occur, hospitals can schedule repairs while avoiding unexpected and costly emergency service calls.

New Risks Ahead 

The increasing connectivity in UPS technology brings benefits, but also comes with potential cybersecurity risks that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services recently issued an advisory warning about potential cyberthreats to U.S hospitals and healthcare providers wherein victims’ files may be encrypted by ransomware and the victim must pay a ransom to get them back. 

To prevent scenarios like this, healthcare facilities should ensure their systems are secure across both IT and OT networks to avoid potential destructive hacks or other complications that can happen when equipment is not properly protected. To do this, administrators should consider equipment that meets certain cybersecurity standards.

The global safety science organization UL has developed and published the UL 2900-1 standard that applies to software cybersecurity for network-connectable devices. It provides criteria and methods for evaluating and testing for vulnerabilities, software weaknesses and malware, as well as requirements regarding the presence of security risk controls in the architecture and design of a product. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has also released cybersecurity certifications such as ISA/IEC 62443 to give companies a resource to address security vulnerabilities in industrial automation and control systems.

Using equipment that has been certified with these standards can give IT staff greater peace of mind as they look to advance and add new solutions to their network. This includes network management cards that healthcare facilities can leverage with UPSs to better protect against breaches. These cards provide warnings of pending issues to administrators and help them perform orderly shutdown of servers and storage to protect critical data. 

Physical security measures should be taken into consideration as well. Rack enclosures can be protected with security locks to ensure only authorized personnel have access to their systems. Smart locks allow administrators to remotely manage and control physical access to an unlimited number of server racks and enclosures.

Consider leveraging cybersecurity services from power management technology providers, which can provide added protection to keep operational and personal data safe. Patient data is a critical part of hospital operational efficiency. The right UPS systems, with the right security in place, are essential to keeping electronic medical records and other data accessible, as well as helping facilities adhere to HIPAA privacy and security requirements.

Weathering the Storm

Mother Nature has an unlimited number of curveballs she can throw, including natural disasters that could lead to untimely power outages. And, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, new reports highlight concern that the virus could become endemic and recur on an annual or seasonal basis, much like the flu. 

Healthcare facilities must be in the right position to weather the storm, both literally and figuratively. This means going back to basics, looking at the infrastructure currently in place to manage critical patient care and asking tough questions to make sure it can meet an increase in patient demand. UPS technology, with the right cybersecurity solutions in place, can help deliver continuous uptime to drive continuous patient care no matter what Mother Nature—or the pandemic—bring next.

Ed Spears is technical marketing manager for Eaton. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].