When the Power Goes Out . . .

Basing Contingency Plans on the Impacts to your Organization’s Goals

By ThinkReliability Staff

An excellent discussion resulted as part of our free Webinar series last week. An attendee asked the question  “What if there’s a cause you can’t control, like the weather?” So another question was raised; “How do you prepare for those sorts of things?”

You can prepare for potential problems that may arise by using a Cause Map, just like you would after an actual problem occurred. We call the Cause Map of things that COULD happen a “proactive” Cause Map, while a Cause Map of something that DID happen is a “reactive” Cause Map. Typically you will see reactive Cause Maps, but a proactive analysis can be extremely useful for contingency planning, as well as to develop problem-solving skills.

To create a proactive (or COULD) Cause Map, follow the same steps normally used in a root cause investigation, trying to imagine the possibilities for impacts to the organization’s goals.  Then create the Cause Map and determine possible solutions (action items). The “cost” of the impacts to the goals will depend which solutions are reasonable to implement.

As an example, let’s look at a power outage from the perspective of a hospital. (View The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Alert on power outage.)  A power outage could lead to the deaths of patients, resulting in an impact to the safety goal. It could lead to the loss of life-saving equipment, resulting in an impact to the customer service goal. It could cause the facility to not be able to admit new patients, resulting in an impact to the production goal.  And, it can result in material and labor costs resulting from the transfer of patients to another facility.

Beginning with these impacts to the goals, we can create a Cause Map. (The Outline and Cause Map are shown on the downloadable PDF.) All the impacts to the goals lead back to a loss of electrical power, caused by both a power outage AND a lack of back-up electricity source.

When determining solutions, there are a few that come to mind, including transferring patients to another healthcare facility (which itself becomes an impact to the goals) and installing battery backups in equipment.  However, because of the severe impacts to the goals, a hospital will likely decide that the whole problem can be solved by installing an emergency generator.  Problem solved.  However, is installing an emergency generator always the right contingency plan for a power outage?

Let’s look at the same situation from the perspective of an office building. A power outage could cause some employees to get injured as they’re exiting the building, resulting in an impact to the safety goals. It will result in the loss of the business function of the office, resulting in an impact to the customer service and production goals. It may also result in paying employees for a non-work day, which is an impact to the labor goal.

The Cause Map looks similar to the hospital power outage Cause Map in that all the impacts lead back to a loss of electrical power, caused by a power outage and lack of back-up electricity source. So, we could put in an emergency generator just like the hospital did and have our problem solved. But the effort and capital required to install an emergency generator based on the lesser impacts to the goals is probably not worth it. Instead, some of the less expensive and consuming solutions can be implemented, such as installing emergency lights and setting up remote work stations for employees.

View the Outlines and Cause Maps for both the hospital and office building power outages by clicking “Download PDF” above.

One thought on “When the Power Goes Out . . .”

  1. Hi,

    I believe I asked this question. Thank you very much for such a great and comprehensive answer. This is exactly what I am looking for. The webinars are excellent. I try not to miss any. Look forward to next week.

Comments are closed.