Buildings that Require Emergency Power

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By law, tall buildings typically require emergency power from a backup generator.


People usually install backup generators in residential settings for convenience and peace of mind. For commercial and municipal settings, however, emergency power isn’t always optional. It’s required by law. Those laws and ordinances make having emergency power necessary because backup generators power essential services, which are lost when electricity from the grid isn’t available.

Backup Generators Provide Essential Power

Recent events highlighted the importance of emergency power. When Hurricane Irma smashed through Florida in early September, millions lost power throughout the state. Among those who lost power were residents in nursing homes. As temperatures rose after the hurricane passed through, 12 residents in one such nursing home died from heat because there was no air conditioning.

In response to the initial deaths, Florida Gov. Rick Scott demanded recourse and ordered that all nursing facilities be equipped with backup generators within a 60 days. According to CNN, he said facilities must have “ample resources, including a generator and the appropriate amount of fuel” to “maintain comfortable temperatures.”

Requirements for emergency power differ between municipalities and states, but general similarities span locations. For example, the Indiana government’s FAQs sheet Regarding the Construction, Renovation or Addition to Longterm Care Facilities states, “When life support systems are present in a comprehensive care facility, emergency power must be provided by a generator located on the premises.” Similar rules for health care facilities are in place across the United States.

General Requirements for Emergency Power

States and municipalities also generally require that emergency power be available for certain features in commercial or multi-unit residential settings. Features that usually require emergency power by law include:

  • Voice systems
  • Communication systems
  • Alarm systems
  • Emergency exit signs
  • Emergency lighting
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Elevators
  • Smoke control systems
  • Horizontal sliding doors

In addition to the requirement that these features have emergency power available, some municipalities even specify the means of that emergency power. For instance, Chicago’s Emergency Electrical Systems code states that emergency features in buildings taller than 400 feet must have emergency power made available from a diesel-powered backup generator.

Other general requirements include regulations on the type of fuel backup generators use (regulators prefer diesel) and the amount of fuel health care facility managers store on site.

Industries that Typically Require Generators

Most codes require that services essential to human safety have emergency power available. For example, regulators require health care facilities to have backup generators on site.

Other facilities and industries that often require backup generators for emergency power include:

  • Municipal buildings
  • Police stations
  • Municipal records facilities
  • Fire stations
  • Emergency dispatch centers
  • Prisons
  • Mental health facilities
  • Motor fuel facilities (Florida and Louisiana)
  • Locations with toxic, highly toxic, or hazardous materials
  • Certain fabrication industries (e.g. semiconductor fabrication facilities)
  • Highrise and underground buildings
  • Airport traffic control towers

Again, requirements for emergency power differ between across the board. So, it’s important that you research local requirements and to consult a local generator expert.