Black Start Exercise tests BACH’s ability maintain essential services

By Maria Christina YagerMarch 17, 2023

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Blanchfield Army Community Hospital participated in an installation energy resilience exercise March 9, designed to test resilience in the face of a major power outage or other utility failure in the community.

The Defense Department requires a number of installations from each branch of service to conduct these Black Start Exercises annually.

“Well-designed exercises provide a low-risk environment to test capabilities, acquaint personnel with roles and responsibilities, and foster meaningful interaction and communication across an organization,” said Dave Allard, BACH’s operations chief and exercise coordinator. “Including a variety of stakeholders in exercises enables the testing and validation of plans and capabilities, and it allows for the identification of current strengths as well as capability gaps and areas for improvement.”

While this was the first time the hospital participated in an IERE of this magnitude with Fort Campbell, BACH routinely tests its auxiliary power generation system to ensure critical services, including operating rooms and critical care, can continue in the event of a temporary disruption of primary power.

“We’re required by code to have emergency power for life safety and life support,” said David Bertoldi, BACH facilities management chief, referring to federal regulations outlining compliance codes for hospitals in the United States, including those within the Defense Health Agency.

“Some buildings we’ll close down, like Byrd and LaPointe Medical Homes, and other outlying clinical services because they are classified as business occupancy,” explained Bertoldi, “but places like the main hospital where we have an intensive care unit and operating rooms, we’re required to have emergency power generation.”

The exercise began with a widespread controlled power outage on post at 8 a.m., automatically triggering the hospital’s emergency power system.

“The lights flickered for a second and then we knew to check our areas,” said Sgt. Emilee Vacher, noncommissioned officer in charge of BACH’s Labor and Delivery Unit.

“Normally we’re talking milliseconds for the generators to start up and sync and phase,” said Bertoldi. Specially colored power outlets throughout the hospital indicate which sources are wired for emergency power. Uninterruptible power supply units sustain critical electronics during the transfer.

“All of our life saving and other important equipment we would use for mom and baby were already plugged into designated outlets ahead of time, so when the power switched over that was a seamless process,” said Maj. Blair Cook, chief nurse of BACH’s Women’s Health Service Line.

Hospital leaders circulated throughout various sections of the hospital during the exercise, including the emergency center, ICU, labor and delivery and the hospital’s main pharmacy, checking in with staff and making sure they had what they needed to safely perform their duties.

Bertoldi said he felt confident going into the exercise because in addition to testing the system each month, he has actual data that shows how the system has worked in the past.

“Have we had power outages of this or greater magnitude -- yes. We’ve been tracking them over the last 20 years. I have to keep track of each outage to the minute, the cause and what it impacts, like which buildings or sections, so we track all that,” said Bertoldi.

He said that most of the events are weather related.

In fact, just a week prior to the exercise, Fort Campbell and the surrounding community sustained high winds that wreaked havoc across the local community causing power outages, property damage and road closures from downed trees and power lines. Wind speeds on the installation were recorded as high as 79 miles per hour.

“Fortunately, we didn’t lose power during that event, but these are situations we prepare for,” Bertoldi said.

The intent of this DoD exercise is for emergency preparedness, readiness and sustainability. BACH worked closely with the installation through all phases of the exercise from planning, execution and lessons learned.