Weather Alert: Critical Operations Power System requirements are overdue

Published On
Dec 15, 2021

When a hurricane is approaching, your attention immediately goes to the Weather Channel, cellphones or computers for updates, if you’re in an affected area.

When traveling, we can find out the approximate temperature, humidity, chance of rain or snow, visibility and sunrise and sunset times for the upcoming week, or even the upcoming month. This type of information is short-term at best, and weather conditions can and often do change while we are traveling there or after we arrive.

What about other conditions that affect us? Is bad weather, a natural disaster or manmade disaster to be anticipated?


Article 708, covering Critical Operations Power Systems (COPS), was inserted as a new article in the 2008 National Electrical Code to help deal with these emergencies and has remained relatively unchanged since its inception. Its scope states that “this article applies to the installation, operation, monitoring, control, and maintenance of the portions of the premises wiring system intended to supply, distribute, and control electricity to designated critical operations areas in the event of disruption to elements of the normal system. Critical operations power systems are those systems so classed by municipal, state, federal, or other codes by any governmental agency having jurisdiction or by facility engineering documentation establishing the necessity for such a system. These systems include, but are not limited to, power systems, HVAC, fire alarm, security, communications, and signaling for designated critical operations areas.”

Informational Note No. 1, however, provides a plainer explanation for Article 708. It states the following: “Critical operations power systems are generally installed in vital infrastructure facilities that, if destroyed or incapacitated, would disrupt national security, the economy, public health or safety; and where enhanced electrical infrastructure for continuity of operation has been deemed necessary by governmental authority.”

This article was generated due to the issues that surrounded the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005. Katrina, a Category 5 storm, caused over 1,800 deaths with damage around $125 billion dollars, and the 9/11 attack shut down the global economy.

COPS is designed to harden the electrical infrastructures of any mission-critical facilities to ensure that the facility can continue to operate during an emergency and for a duration of time beyond the emergency. The idea is to establish facilities, such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, Wall Street and financial hubs, and other critical operations that can act as a hub or center to support emergency needs for the community.

For example, a hospital built in compliance with Article 708 could be used to transfer critical patients with the assurance that critical operation power would continue during the natural or man-made disaster. During and after Katrina, almost every area hospital and emergency center was shut down with no place to send critical patients and no power to support emergency operations. If any one or all of the hospital and emergency facilities had been built in accordance with Article 708, there would probably have been far less loss of life.

New build vs. remodel

An existing hospital or critical-operation facility can certainly be remodeled or retrofitted to comply with the requirements in Article 708, but the cost would be much higher than if the facility was built new in compliance with these requirements. I was just visiting an existing hospital in a relatively rural area that was not designed and built based on Article 708. A new hospital is in the design stages as I write this article, and yet no one is contemplating using the requirements in Article 708 for the new hospital. Lack of informed planning now could lead to disastrous consequences in the future.

Informative Annex F in the NEC provides a guide on the availability and reliability for COPS, as well as the development and implementation of functional performance tests from submitted drawings, systems operating documents and system operation and maintenance manuals. System operation manuals and maintenance testing would apply to testing of large components such as generators, transformers, cables and uninterruptible power systems. In addition, Informative Annex G provides requirements for a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. A SCADA system for the COPS loads provides control and monitoring of the electrical and mechanical utility systems related to mission critical loads, such as fire alarm systems, security systems, power distribution, power generation, HVAC and ventilation, load shedding, fuel levels and hours of operation.

Next month, I will provide additional information on Article 708 and the necessary installation differences between a normal system and a COPS system.

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and

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