What Do We Do When the Power Goes Out? (Part 1 of 3)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

If There is Service Interruption, What Sort of Contingency Plan Should the Average Laundry Have in Place?


tom gildredA contingency plan for power outages should be comprehensive and encompass multiple areas within the operation. As a healthcare laundry, it is critical to deliver consistently and on time to customers. We employ a contingency plan outlined as follows:

  • Provide ample supply of par at customers’ facilities
  • Work in advance
  • Maintain an inventory of processed linen
  • Maintain an inventory of new linen
  • Prepare for emergency through redundancy and backup plans
  • Operate with reserve capacity

First, managing within The Joint Commission’s requirements to maintain a certain par, or number of days’ worth of laundry at customers’ facilities, and ensuring ample supply for the appropriate number of days is important. Second, working ahead in the plant, and having processed linen ready for delivery in advance aids readiness and consistent supply. Holding in reserve new linen at your own plant facilitates the availability of excess inventory in the case of emergency or power outage.

Securing additional power generation in case of emergency is important for successful contingency planning. Either owning your own backup power generator and maintaining it, or identifying suppliers and securing an agreement to lease a generator when needed is a proactive approach to ensure your laundry is in the front of the queue within hours of the request, at a time when demand may be high. Having agreements with backup processors in a geographically desirable radius of your service areas should be the final step in your contingency plan.

Finally, processing below actual capacity allows the operation to ramp up throughput and provide additional volume after an interruption. By operating below total capacity, a facility not only reduces wear and tear on equipment, it ensures its ability to respond quickly and “catch up” as needed in outage situations. Plant redundancy is a crucial aspect of capacity, and having a facility with extra machinery, boiler power and air compression allows for tremendous increase in throughput when needed.

We at Emerald Textiles tested our contingency plan on Sept. 8, 2011, when all of San Diego County and some neighboring cities were completely without power. Having a solid plan in place allowed us to maintain operations and deliveries seamlessly.


The definition of a good contingency plan is as follows:

scott beatonThe plan shall provide for the uninterrupted operations and services in the event of any occurrence potentially leading to the disruption of the provider’s operations. Such disruptions include, but are not limited to, loss of utilities, medical emergencies, natural and/or man-made disasters, fire, inclement weather, work stoppage, and/or major accidents.

A contingency plan should include the following components:

  • Plant and transportation contingency protocol
  • Key member re-call chain
  • Contact list of backup laundry facilities
  • Backup source of textiles on call

The provider should furnish a mechanism to inform. A step-by-step procedure should be in place in the event of an emergency and shall be available to supervisors, each of whom may be responsible for execution of the protocol.

All employees should be familiar with the major elements of the plants contingency protocol in the event of emergencies.

The pyramid re-call chain should be written, complete, current, and available to all supervisory personnel, so that timely and accurate contact can be made in case of an emergency.

A designated person should maintain the call chain and be responsible for updating it at least annually or when personnel changes occur, and distributing the list to personnel.

The facility should have written agreements with one or more alternate laundry providers that could cover the facility’s volume, detailing when and how these providers will process textiles in an emergency.

Such agreements shall be updated annually, signed and dated.

The provider should have adequate transportation capabilities with contingency planning.

The facility should have written agreements in place with one or more alternate textile suppliers, detailing the services and delivery times provided.


Power outages tend to be regional—it is unlikely an entire city will be without power. As a contingency plan, have another laundry ready to take your work in marlene williamscase of a short-term power outage. This can be another institution in the same business you are, or a commercial laundry.

Have the agreements worked out in advance so that the switchover is as smooth as possible. There will have to be many accommodations made in your facility to get this done, and you need a contingency plan that everyone understands and agrees to.

The second thing you can do is to acquire a dedicated gas-powered generator that automatically comes on in the event of an emergency. Laundries can be “sinkholes” for power, however, so the best idea here if you have a large laundry is to maintain a dedicated generator with the ability to “dump” large quantities of power on demand. (A large washer going into extract can pull down an incredible amount of power in the first 30 seconds of start-up, so your generator system needs to be able to accommodate this huge spike in demand.)

These two actions, along with keeping adequate linen on hand (having a two-par inventory in locked storage would help if you are located in an area where power outages might be expected) are your options for addressing power outages.

It is far less likely that you will suffer a gas outage, but it is still a good idea to have a propane backup for the possible loss of natural gas (I’m thinking here of ground disturbances such as earthquakes). The changeover from natural gas to propane is relatively easy, and your maintenance team should be ready for this conversion at any time with the parts and know-how to get the job done quickly and with a minimum of disruption.

If you are in a zone where these ground disturbances are probable, get a large propane tank and prep your team for this contingency.

(Editor’s note: Williams received assistance from consultant John White in writing this month’s response.)

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!


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