During another New York City-wide blackout in 2003, an official report later said, "Despite prior testing according to applicable State and accreditation standards, [some] generators malfunctioned, experiencing, for example, problems with switches and overheating. ...In a few cases hospitals reported that fuel supplies for generators fell to dangerously low levels, in part because of transportation difficulties encountered by fuel delivery trucks."
Back at NYU, a hospital trustee, Gary Cohn, said that the board knew the facilities' generators were outdated and at risk, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
"The infrastructure at NYU is somewhat old," Cohn said in a television interview. The backup generators "are not state-of-the-art and not in the most state-of-the-art location."
A hospital spokeswoman defended its systems to the Huffington Post.
"Our generators are fully compliant with all state and federal regulations and, using good prudence, we test them all the time as we have to do anyway," Lisa Greiner said.
Emails to NYU staff by ProPublica were not returned prior to publication.
Another expert in disaster planning, Dr. Dan Hanfling, said in an email that the failure of the back-up power at NYU Langone "is certainly unexpected."
Hospitals, he said, are required by the Joint Commission, a hospital accreditor, to have back-up power capabilities. They are required to "load test" those systems a few times each year.
"Evidently, the catastrophic failure must be explained by something else," wrote Hanfling, a special adviser for emergency preparedness and response for Inova Health System in Virginia.
In his email to ProPublica, Kellermann wrote that the irony of the NYU generator failure is that New York City's hospitals and health department "have taken preparedness more seriously than nearly everyone else in the country, particularly since 9/11/01." RAND tested a novel, no-notice disaster drill at a different city hospital a few months ago and it performed very well.
The situation at NYU should be a lesson for all.
"Preparedness is not simply a hoop to jump through to satisfy the Joint Commission, or to keep the Fire Marshall off your back," Kellermann wrote. "It is a fundamental duty to the community, state and country. Assuming nothing will ever happen, or counting on your staff to 'rise to the occasion' is not a plan, and it is not preparedness."
Hanfling went a step further. "Lesson to learn: hospitals must be prepared to evacuate patients. This may be the 'new normal' for hospital preparedness efforts," he wrote.
This article was originally published on ProPublica.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.