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How to Sustain Critical Life Safety & Security Systems During Power Outages

electric power grid in silhouette

More than ever before, your critical communication, alerting, and access control systems face threats from electrical power loss, high voltage/high amperage power surges, and other threats. As electrical and electronic equipment becomes more sophisticated, it often becomes more susceptible to damage from these threats. So, what do you do? How do you sustain critical life safety & security systems during power outages?

Fortunately, there is effective technology available that can give you peace of mind and continued problem-free operation of your critical communication, safety, and security systems. Here’s what you need to know:

Power Outages Are a Real Threat to Critical Life Safety & Security Systems

“Rolling power outages”, power rationing, and outright loss of electrical power throughout the country are occurring with greater frequency. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and more natural disasters seem to increase every year, all of which can knock out power. Even the U.S. government has done extensive research and identified various threats to our entire electrical grid.

In the face of increasing demand for electricity, it has become more of a challenge for our electrical utilities to supply the constant, even supply of power that critical systems require. On top of that, lightning or other sources cause extensive surges in electrical supply that wipe out many expensive electrical components every year.

How to Sustain Critical Life Safety & Security Systems During Power Outages

Thankfully, there are technologies available and systems you can put in place that can help combat these threats. Here are a few ways to sustain critical life safety & security systems during power outages:

1. Ensure You Have Backup Generators

Many healthcare facilities currently have backup electrical power in place. Generally, these are in the form of large electrical generators that automatically kick in during a power outage or a blackout.

However, adequate electrical backup systems are not always in place in senior living facilities and other types of facilities. So, it is essential to make sure you have backup generators in place and not to assume it’s there or that it is adequate no matter what type of facility you have.

2. Review Regularly to Make Sure Backup Generators Meet Current Needs

Backup generators are typically sized appropriately for the expected needs of the particular facility. But, electrical needs often change and increase over time. As such, it’s important to review needs at least annually to make sure your backup generators will meet your current needs in a crisis. If you regularly go through a building vulnerability assessment checklist, reviewing equipment like this should be on it.

These large generators may be powered by diesel fuel, natural gas, or propane. Assuming that the generator system has sufficient “instantaneous” power to meet the minute-to-minute needs of the facility, do you know how long the backup fuel source will last? Do you know how long it would take to refuel in a long-term emergency? Is fuel even available to refuel your systems, if needed?

It is quite possible that many of these systems were originally designed to supply 24 hours of electrical power. This may be enough in some cases, but will not be enough in others. With today’s threat of power outages, it’s important to have a plan in place for sustaining your systems for outages that could last more than 24 hours.

3. Include Uninterrupted Power Supply Equipment

Even with adequate backup generators in place, there is always a slight delay before that power is established throughout the facility. This means that you will have a temporary loss of system functionality.

Even worse, there may be possible loss of stored data, system, or device settings, and more. What do you do for that? Thankfully, there is help from “UPS” or “Uninterrupted Power Supply” equipment.

What is Uninterrupted Power Supply Equipment?

Uninterrupted Power Supply equipment or UPS equipment is basically a stored power system similar to the concept of batteries. UPS systems almost immediately kick in to give needed electrical power until the main power backup system is supplying power to the facility

These UPS systems can take the form of low-voltage power supplies. They are used to routinely convert incoming 120 Volt AC power to 12 or 24 Volt DC power for low-voltage equipment that has included battery backup power. UPS equipment can also be a tower, desktop, or rack-mounted to supply 120 VAC power to computers, servers, NVRs, and more.

What to Consider for UPS Systems

There are a lot of factors that go into creating the right UPS system for your facility. Here’s what to consider for Uninterrupted Power Supply systems:

Total Power Draw and Length of Power Outage

These UPS systems need to be properly sized for the expected power draw during a power outage for each device or piece of equipment being protected. Both total power draw—usually expressed in Watts—along with expected time of any power outage need to be taken into consideration.

“Quality” of Electrical Power Supplied

Most of the lower-cost Uninterrupted Power Supplies DO NOT supply electrical power equivalent in “quality” to typical incoming electric utility company power. Typically, power coming from a utility company is a “true sine wave”. This means the alternating flow of electricity is “smoother” and less stressful to sensitive electronic equipment,

Many UPS systems supply a “choppier” or “blockier” form of power, which could be called a “modified sine wave”, “stepped approximated sine wave”, etc. This can cause issues with expensive and sensitive electronic systems.

For critical life safety & security systems, it’s generally worth upgrading to true sine wave UPS. A qualified designer and installer of UPS can be invaluable in selecting the right backup equipment for your site.

4. Create Complete Surge Protection for Your Equipment

Assuming an adequate backup power system is in place, what about the threats from power surges, lightning strikes, etc.? Fortunately, a wide variety of protection systems and devices are available to help protect your sensitive equipment.

Electrical surge protectors are readily available and should be in place to protect each piece of your equipment. This will sometimes require surge protectors at many 120 Volt AC outlets, which are the typical electrical outlets in most facilities.

However, it is highly recommended to create complete surge protection for adequate protection for all equipment. This includes low-voltage devices “down the line” and may require additional surge protection.

Make Sure Your Surge Protectors Match the Power of Your Equipment

Surge protectors are rated based on the total electrical surge or “jolt” they can handle before they fail along with how quickly they react to “cut off” the incoming power surge. As these capabilities increase, so does the cost of the surge protectors.

In order to adequately protect your equipment, you want to make sure your more expensive, more powerful equipment has a higher degree of protection than less expensive, less powerful equipment. A safe recommendation for computers, servers, NVRs, etc. is at least 2,000 “joules” of protection.

Make Sure Surge Protectors Will Work Fast Enough

In addition to joule or total energy absorbing/handling capability, you also need to look at how fast that level of protection kicks in during a power surge. Power surges typically reach their peak in microseconds, but good surge protectors can respond even quicker in nanoseconds.

Aside from that, you also need to get into MOVs, TVS, TSPDs, SMs, and other components that offer varying degrees of electrical resistance and more. This is essential to providing adequate protection in the face of varying voltages and amperages that your system may see.

Include Surge Protection in UPS and Network Switches

Surge protection is often available in UPS and network “switches” and should be included whenever possible. Surge protection is even available for the ever more popular “PoE” or “Power Over Ethernet” low-voltage systems and should be seriously considered. This can be invaluable in preventing a power outage caused by a surge and sustaining power to your critical systems.

Getting the right systems and components in place to adequately protect your equipment and sustain critical life safety & security systems during power outages is essential. It can also be difficult to know you have the right options for your facility’s needs. That’s where an experienced security systems integrator can help. Contact NEPPS for a free site assessment and make sure your facility can sustain critical systems the next time the power goes out!