Flexing Our Power
Tuesday February 1st was a busy day here at Pacific Fertility Center. The front office was busy with their usual patient appointments, comings and goings for consultations, ultrasound scans and blood draws. In the procedure area and the lab, we were having one of our busier days, with 7 retrievals, 5 fresh embryo transfers and 1 frozen embryo transfer scheduled. It's rare for us to have so many procedures on a single day, but because the exact date of a patient's retrieval is uncertain and depends on their response to stimulation drugs, we get a day like this a few times per year. Fortunately, PFC has an exceptionally large and well-equipped laboratory, so we can cope easily with variations in case load. Also, both our nursing and embryology staff schedules are flexible enough to allow us to schedule extra staff when necessary. On that Tuesday for example, we had 8 of our 9 embryologists on duty in the lab Even though most patient appointments don't happen before 8 AM, lab and nursing staff are here between 7 and 7:30 in the morning to open up the facility and perform the usual quality control (QC) checks before the work day can begin. In the lab, once all QC and start-up procedures have been completed and documented, we begin looking at embryos that are to be transferred that morning, thawing frozen embryos for transfer, evaluating fertilization for the previous day's patients, retrieving eggs and processing sperm samples. The nursing staff is busy checking in patients for retrievals, doing all their pre-operation checks and setting up IV bags, and coordinating patients for embryo transfers. Mornings are definitely our busiest time; we do this every day (7 days a week) so we like to think that the work flows smoothly. At approximately 8:30 AM, right in the middle of the action, the power to our building and to those in a 10-block radius, went out. When a power outage occurs, there's a split second when everything goes dark, but before you can think about it, emergency power kicks in and we almost seamlessly continue working. However, as part of our procedures for disaster preparedness, we have protocols for working during a power outage, and these immediately become active. First we check our emergency power generator and then all vital equipment to make sure that everything has power and is functioning normally. In the lab, one of our 15 incubators reset itself and went into calibration mode, so we simply moved its contents to a new home. No other problems or incidents occurred that day. We completed all retrievals and transfers in the usual way and our biggest concern was simply wondering why the power had gone out. On the nursing end, patients were escorted up and down 5 flights of stairs because the elevators shut down, but otherwise their day was uneventful. Emergency procedures and back-up power are a vital part of our operation. Our emergency generator will run our facility for 36 hours, or longer with the addition of diesel to the tank. The generator gets a 30-minute test run and an inspection every week. It receives a full service a minimum of 4 times a year and immediately after any power outage. After this instance, a service technician checked the generator and refilled the tank. In the event there is a power failure when no one is present, the system will automatically switch over to back-up power. The alarm system in the lab then proceeds to dial each embryologist in turn on his or her home and cell phones until the call is received and verified with a code. All vital equipment is alarmed which enables us to check the status of the equipment from a remote location. We also have auditory monitoring capability and can listen to the background noise in the lab (such as a fire alarm) at any time. If it is necessary, we are prepared to have an individual physically present in the lab within 30 minutes of getting an alarm call. Embryos and sperm in freezers don't actually need power at all, provided that we physically fill the cryo tanks with liquid nitrogen once or twice a week. The computers that usually monitor and automatically fill these tanks do need power of course, but they are not essential to maintain refrigeration. On February 1st, power was restored after 90 minutes, however we never know the time or duration of a power outage. At Pacific Fertility Center, we remain well rehearsed and prepared, just in case it happens on the busiest morning of the year.