Communities across the U.S. are feeling the effects of more frequent natural disasters. When tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes or droughts wreak havoc, resiliency of a central plant and a hospital’s utility infrastructure is critical to maintaining hospital operations and keeping patients safe. There is no waiting until the storm passes. Protecting against the loss of power, water or natural gas must be addressed during the planning and design phases.

In the planning stages, there will be many decisions made that will impact the hospital for years to come. With a little upfront planning today, utility master plans can help hospitals achieve big paybacks tomorrow.

Backup Systems Designed to Respond to Emergencies

There is nothing more important than keeping the power going and the lights on for a healthcare facility. When planning backup systems, it’s important to consider a variety of options for power sources. In some instances, emergency generators are enough, but in other scenarios a combined heat and power (CHP) system may be a better solution with day to day operational savings. More and more healthcare facilities are relying on CHP facilities to island and maintain full operations during a widespread grid outage.

With a CHP solution, energy savings and carbon reductions are generated daily. In contrast, emergency generators typically sit idle — providing no daily benefit — while requiring training and testing of additional equipment.

Another benefit of CHP is seen during storms. When a storm is approaching, facilities can proactively disconnect and run fully on a CHP system — avoiding transition risks.

In addition, water plays a critical role in hospital operations. When it comes to water, hospitals are like humans and cannot operate without it. Hospitals must determine how much storage is needed, how to deliver the water and also load requirements.

There are important questions that must be considered. Is full domestic water service needed or just in certain areas? Is a cooling backup desired? If the answers are yes, water will be necessary for cooling towers— and a lot of it. In addition, it is important to deliberate the water capacity. Will it be three days or a week? It will also be necessary to determine a reasonable timeline for recovery.

Fuel Sources
Determining backup fuel supplies needed for steam and/or power production is another critical consideration. Facilities should determine the emergency load need for heating and process steam. If there is any concern over interruption of natural gas supply for onsite power or heat generation, backup fuel sources like diesel may be an option. Adequate storage capacity is a must.

Real World Solutions

In Gainesville, Florida, the UF Health Shands South Campus hospitals at the University of Florida are served by Gainesville Regional Utilities South Energy Plant which has a combined heat and power system, that allows the facility to use CHP resources to proactively island itself from the grid in advance of weather-related concerns. If a hurricane is approaching, the facility can disconnect, providing power to the hospital while the surrounding grid is at risk or power is out.

In addition, the Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, Texas, required a new CUP to provide highly efficient utilities for its new 2.8-million-square-foot hospital campus. During an emergency, nearly 18 megawatts of electrical backup power is available, more than enough capacity to maintain hospital functions under multiple disaster scenarios. To meet the backup demands, the facility design includes redundancy on all equipment; dual incoming utility feeds for power and water; dual outgoing feeds for thermals, power and water; and on-site fuel and water storage capacity. Each component would keep the hospital in operation for 36 hours completely independent of outside utilities.

There are other means to protect critical infrastructure from Mother Nature. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, new lessons in preparedness with worsening impacts from natural disasters were taken to heart by facilities across the region. For example, in New Orleans, Louisiana, a new Enwave Biomedical District Steam Energy Plant was designed and built to meet the load growth of the Louisiana State University Medical Center. One of the project’s critical requirements was to keep the hospital’s Level 1 trauma center operable for up to seven days without electricity, natural gas and water services to the plant. The facility’s exterior structure was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 150 mile per hour. The facility was also strategically built vertically above Hurricane Katrina flood lines.

Similarly, Thermal Energy Corp. (TECO) developed a major district energy master plan for the Texas Medical Center in Houston, the largest medical center in the world. Those plans included a 48-megawatt combined heat and power plant and extensive steam and chilled water capacity to maintain cooling and heating, even while operating off the grid. When Hurricane Harvey rose around TECO, the infrastructure hardening built into the project lived up to the moment and protected critical systems serving that vital medical campus.

The essential functions that take place inside hospital campus facilities place tremendous demand on utilities. You must be able to meet those needs under extreme conditions, so your generation facilities and power distribution systems must be reliable and resilient. There are a variety of strategies and solutions that can be implemented for a robust system. These solutions must be considered in the planning stages and many questions must be asked to develop the best solutions for a specific campus.


Continued resiliency in the face of natural disasters or global crises is paramount to protecting people and industries.

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This piece originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Medical Construction & Design magazine.

Jon Schwartz has more than 20 years of diversified experience in the engineering, architecture and construction industry. He has spent most of his career leading campus utility system studies and design projects. Specific experience includes utility master planning, energy conservation, CUP/CHP planning and detailed design for various types of institutions, including healthcare facilities.