Planned power outages successfully completed

Monday, April 8, 2013 - 12:11pm

Read a thank you message from the Leadership Enabling Team

It was an extraordinary weekend at the Halifax Infirmary Building of the QEII on April 6 and 7. Many parts of the hospital were in complete darkness during four brief planned power outages.

Months of planning went into the outages to ensure patient safety and involved representatives from almost every department from surgery to security. Extra staff came in to cover inpatient units, staff were provided with flashlights and headlamps, and all surgeries were cancelled expect for the most urgent. Alternate power sources (such as generators) were running to maintain necessary equipment

“This went as smoothly as we could have hoped,” said Karen MacRury Sweet, the clinical lead for the outages and Emergency Operations Centre Manager. “The outages were shorter than expected and we had much more power than we thought. We were prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, which is what happened.”

This work was necessary after an incident in fall 2012 when there was a partial failure of one of three switches used to transfer electrical loads from street power to generator power. That left a number of areas at the QEII Halifax Infirmary without power for just over an hour. To avoid a recurrence, the faulty switch and a second one had to be rebuilt; a third switch had been previously rebuilt. To enable that, power was planned to be turned off completely for two 30-minute periods each day, one at 9:30 a.m. and the other at 4 p.m.

“There were approximately 700 patients in the hospital over the weekend and of course they are our first priority,” said MacRury-Sweet. “We reassured them that every precaution was taken to keep them safe. We had extra staff on hand to sit with anyone who was anxious and we sent out multiple communications to patients and their families letting them know about the outages and the many precautions in place.”  

“We did walkthrough after walkthrough to make sure everything was covered and learned something new on almost every trip,” said Phil Porter, Emergency Emergency Preparedness Coordinator .

Pharmacy, for example, normally only fills orders when they receive a fax with a signature. Since the fax machines were down during the outage, porters had to hand-deliver any prescriptions by flashlight through dark stairwells.

One walkthrough revealed that several newer washrooms had faucets that only work when the sensors are activated through a power connection. Since hand hygiene is paramount, those sinks had to have alternate power sources.

Nutrition and Food Services were in the dark during the lead up to supper hour, so prepared cold meal choices for patients. 

“This has provided great learning about our operations going forward. We had daily meetings with teams across the organization and it has helped us all to understand what our other departments all do. This will only improve and enhance operations going forward,” said MacRury-Sweet.

In the end, the outages were delayed twice Saturday because of patients needing urgent care. An overnight trauma patient needed surgery Saturday morning and that delayed the first outage until 11:30 a.m. The necessary work in between the outages took longer than expected and then a second patient arrived at 10 p.m. delaying the outage until midnight.

Sunday things proceeded as planned. The first outage at 9:30 only lasted 11 minutes and the second one took place slightly later than planned at 5:30 p.m. after which the Emergency Operations Centre stood down.

“Thanks to all who contributed to making this project a success. This was excellent teamwork for a major project and a job well done by all,” said Porter.