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May 24
Hurricanes Blow In.  Power Goes Out.  

Minimizing the impacts of power outages on people with chronic conditions

Author: Stacey Elmer, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

Every year for the last fifteen years, there has been a hurricane that caused a major disaster somewhere in the United States. The question isn’t so much whether or not we’ll have a hurricane as when it will happen, where it will happen, how severe it will be, and how it will affect you. Last fall many of us along the East Coast felt the impact of Hurricane Sandy, one of the largest hurricanes in history. In recent years, we’ve also felt the impacts of hurricanes Isaac, Irene, Gustav, Rita and, of course, Katrina. Each of these storms impacted people’s health, but those who rely on electricity for the continued functioning of their electrical equipment are at greater risk.

When a hurricane strikes, emergency rooms fill up quickly – but they aren’t just full of people who have been injured by the storm directly. If the power goes out, residents with chronic medical conditions who rely on durable medical equipment, such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators and intravenous infusion pumps, may not have a way to get the care that they need. After days without power at home, the batteries will run out and need to be plugged in somewhere to recharge. People who need dialysis may also find that their regular centers are closed following a hurricane. Even though these people aren’t normally patients, many of them come to emergency rooms because their regular means of taking care of themselves aren’t working and they need help.

These issues not only adversely impact the health individual outcomes but also may stress the local healthcare system further, reducing a community’s resilience and capability to rapidly recover from an emergency.

ASPR and FEMA are working together to enhance community and individual resiliency before, during and after a disaster. We recently solicited ideas that may enable us to develop a suite of solutions, including battery-life sensor-signaling devices, longer-life universal batteries, safe power generation and communication-enabling technologies that can accurately locate and assist power-dependent DME populations prior to, during, and in the aftermath of a public health emergency or disaster.

But even with solutions in place, personal planning matters. It matters most for the millions of Americans who manage chronic medical conditions on their own every day. For these people, an extended power outage can be more than an inconvenience; it can be life threatening. If you, a family member, a friend or a neighbor has a chronic health condition, especially one that power-dependent equipment, take time now to plan for the next storm.

If you take medication regularly, have extra medication or a copy of the prescription in a water-proof bag, ready to evacuate with you. Keep a little bit of cash with it (if you can) for the co-pay to refill the prescription if the drugs are damaged in a flood or lost. Remember, credit card machines at the store and money machines require electricity.

If you use dialysis, know where the alternative locations are and ask staff your center about the facility’s emergency plans.

If you use power-dependent equipment, charge the battery as soon as you hear about a potential storm heading your way and identify places you can evacuate outside the affected area where electricity is not likely to be lost.

Consider the positive impact of taking these steps: better health outcomes for you and the people you love, less stress on the local healthcare system, greater community resilience and a more rapid recovery from an emergency.

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