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Most generator sets now use electronic control panels that provide accurate digital metering and monitoring of the engine and generator. The bulk of these newer controls are Modbus-ready, so the locally displayed data can be conveyed to other Modbus platforms. If a hospital wants to move away from handwritten reports, the two main choices to convey information are hardwired systems and wireless cellular systems. Wireless systems offer a range of advantages over hardwired options:
• A trained staff person or first responder is rarely present at the wired remote annunciator location when an event occurs. Some remote annunciators are located in PBX locations where tape has been placed over the audible alarm horn. A wireless system provides alarm notification to first responders (engineering staff and generator contractors) directly through a cellular network by text or email.
• Excessive wire runs create control power voltage drops, which may corrupt data being transmitted over wires between the main control and annunciator.
• Hardwired systems are exposed to the risk of transient voltages or electrical surges. Subsequent blown fuses may disable parts or all of the functions of hardwired system’s main controller. A wireless system can be powered by the genset battery, which is monitored and carefully maintained.
• Hardwired systems also face the risk of exposure to radio frequency interference.
• Power to the remote annunciator can be lost without notification.
• Cranking voltage drop can cause loss of information to the remote annunciator.
Running data through the building automation system may seem like a good option for remote annunciation. But the BAS is not allowed to be used for remote annunciation except as a supplement, according to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 99, 126.96.36.199.15.9.
Wireless cellular monitoring with automatic reporting features may offer these benefits:
• When automated recording features are used, round-the-clock data collection is readily available and digitally accurate, allowing resource assignment to higher priority missions.
• Generators are pinged every few seconds to monitor potential problems through a trending program.
• Loss of communication with the generator, caused by corrupt data or control power, initiates fault notifications directly to first responders.
• NFPA 99 and NFPA 110 reporting required by authorities having jurisdication (AHJs) is automatically downloaded and stored on the hospital and cloud servers, thus reducing staff time and recording errors.
• Staff is alerted anytime the generator has been asked to start, including no-load tests and power outages. All generator-run events are recorded and archived, not just compliance testing.
• Automatic data collection during power outages may substitute for compliance testing if duration and load percentages meet the minimum standards per NFPA 110, 188.8.131.52.
• Phraseology, nomenclatures, and additional data can be customized to meet specific site criteria.
• Remote starting capability is available.
• Contractors can access the generator data to run diagnostics.
• The wireless monitoring system may offer the ability to notify an arbitrary number of people about both the state of the power generation system and the monitoring system itself. Staff responsible for scheduling surgery are notified if the generator is not available, those who maintain the machines are notified about engine details, and those who oversee the system are notified about any loss of communication.
Smart systems are readily available for less than $3,500 for a generator that is equipped with a Modbus platform, and the systems can be installed with reasonable annual reporting charges. Older gensets with analog controls can (and should) be upgraded to digital Modbus-ready control panel kits. Most of the analog panels still in the field have obsolete components that make effective troubleshooting and repair difficult. An added plus is that the hardware can be easily installed by hospital staff.
For an existing building that uses a basic hardwired alarm box with the minimum NFPA 99 dedicated fault lights, a wireless platform can provide real time data with load test report charts, in addition to basic notifications offered by the hardwired light box.
One potential drawback to cellular wireless systems is poor default cellular service. A weak signal can be addressed by using extension cables for the antenna or switching to a different provider to achieve a good signal. There are also satellite solutions if those are merited — for example, disaster response efforts in Puerto Rico.
Note that recording and remote annunciation equipment does not have to be hardwired. The report need only record specific data according to manufacturer’s manuals, AHJ requirements, or the optional template at NFPA 110, Figure A.8.4.1 (a). Network remote annunciation has never been specifically disallowed.
Dan Chisholm, Sr. (email@example.com), is an emergency power consultant at MGI-EPSS Consulting. He serves as chairman of the technical committees responsible for NFPA 110, Emergency and Standby Power Systems, and NFPA 111, Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems.
SIDEBAR: Tougher Education Requirements to Come?
According to NFPA 110, emergency power supply system components “shall be maintained and tested by qualified person(s).” In addition, NFPA 99 (Health Care Facilities Code) states: “The scheduled tests shall be conducted by competent personnel to keep the machines ready to function and, in addition, serve to detect causes of malfunction and to train personnel in operating procedures.” To date, no state licensing requirements exist for individuals responsible for the maintenance and testing of emergency power supply systems; however, this may change in the future. Each facility should require anyone involved with the emergency power supply system to become familiar with not only the manufacturer’s guidelines but also the standards governing maintenance and testing. Education is of the utmost importance and should be properly documented. Also see 42 CFR 482.15 (d) for regulations pertaining to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) conditions of participation (COP).
— Danny Chisholm president, Motor and Generator Institute
High-Tech Healthcare: Wireless, Smart Generator Sets Monitoring