Power Outages and Oxygen or Other Care Issues
Aside from major natural disasters, storms, excessive heat, and physical interference such as a car hitting a power pole can cause power dips and outages. These can be lengthy, and are always sudden and usually unexpected. At the very least they are an inconvenient annoyance. For some they can present life-threatening circumstances. For instance, some oxygen systems are dependent on electrical power to generate the oxygen.
Backup generators are required for anyone on a ventilator. It is essential that all persons involved in the care of anyone on a ventilator be trained in how to switch the system over. The generator needs to be appropriately housed in an accessible area. In the event of a storm or other predictable event that could cause a power outage, preparations should be made to get to the generator quickly.
Ventilators require electrical power or a generator backup to continue functioning. Those who are totally dependent on a ventilator can be in serious trouble in a power outage. Ventilators are devices that assist a person to breathe or actually breathe for the person by forcing air in and out of the lungs mechanically. Typically, a person who is paralyzed from the neck or chest down requires some form of ventilator assistance.
Generators run on gasoline or other fossil fuel and cannot be placed inside the house due to exhaust fumes. In preparing for the event of power outages due to storms, placement and access should be an important consideration.
Anyone using oxygen that requires electricity to make it should have a backup tank of oxygen in case of a power outage. Again, anyone involved in the care of this person should know how to use the oxygen equipment and switch over to a tank. Oxygen is dangerous, but when handled correctly it can be safe to use.
Oxygen should not be used near an open flame. In other words, while cooking over a gas stove, the oxygen should be turned off and the tubing removed from the person. Obviously, there should be no smoking by anyone in a house where oxygen is in use. Many times these rules are ignored. It should be noted that it's not just the person using the oxygen who is in danger; anyone inside that home at the time of the misuse is in danger of being injured by an explosion or fire. And anyone or any building nearby is in danger as well. This can be particularly dangerous to other residents in an apartment building. Oxygen must be used carefully and responsibly.
Other Power Considerations
Power outages can affect many other aspects of care, such as electric beds. Most of these have a crank system for emergency use. Many low air-loss mattresses or other air-mattress toppers use an electrical pump for continuous airflow. In the event of a power outage, there are procedures to follow to shut off the pumps and keep the mattresses inflated. Some have built-in battery backup systems. All caregivers should know how to perform these procedures. Routine, surprise emergency drills should be implemented, especially when care is being provided to someone dependent on electrical systems for life support, such as a ventilator.
Notify Utility Companies
It is also imperative to notify utility companies when such medical devices are in use. The utility company may offer a discounted rate for the electricity due to medical needs. They will also keep the residence on a priority list to restore power first. Should the outage be due to a brownout or flex-power situation because of an overload of the entire grid from excessive usage, the utility company may be able to keep power on at that residence. This type of grid overload is most often due to times of extreme heat or cold, which causes a continuous use of excessive power to run air-conditioning or heating systems.
Suction equipment, IV pumps, and a number of other medical devices that can be used in a home setting may require electricity. Most have battery backup systems, but once again, all caregivers should be familiar with this switching procedure and any associated safety procedures.
Similarly, if the house is heated with gas, in times of extreme cold, if the utility company is aware of medical needs, they will list this residence as a high priority for consumption and restore any loss of access as soon as possible. Discount rates for gas usage may also be considered due to special needs.