Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices

You are listening to emergency preparedness 4U a series of short podcasts on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.

Welcome, I'm your host Lewis Kraus from the Pacific ADA Center.

Today's episode covers emergency power planning tips for people who use electricity and battery dependent devices. These devices include:

Some of this equipment is essential to your independence while other equipment may be vital to keeping you alive! Use the following when putting together your emergency power-backup plans.

Here are eight basic planning tips:

  1. Create a plan for alternative sources of power.
  2. Read equipment instructions and talk to equipment suppliers about your backup power options.
  3. Get advice from your power company about the type of backup power you plan to use.
  4. Regularly check backup or alternative power equipment to ensure it will function during an emergency.
  5. Teach many people to use your backup systems and operate your equipment.
  6. Keep a list of alternate power providers. Ask your nearby police and fire departments, hospital or even neighbors who own generators, if you could use those generators as a backup for your power needs the if your backup systems fail.
  7. Label all equipment with your name, address, and phone number. Attach simple and clear “how to operate” instruction cards to the equipment and laminate them for added strength. An example might be how to “free wheel” or “disengage the gears” of your power wheelchair.
  8. Keep copies of serial and model numbers of devices, as well as important use instructions in a waterproof container in your emergency supply kits.

If you use life-support equipment, here are four tips:

  1. Contact the customer service department at your power and water companies about your use of home dialysis, suction, breathing, or other life support devices, in advance of a disaster.
    • Many utility companies keep an emergency list and map of the locations of power-dependent customers. Ask them if this service is available and if so if you can you be put on this "priority reconnection service".
    • Remember even if you are on the "priority reconnection service," your power could still be out for many days following a disaster. So, it is vital that you have power backup options for your equipment.
  2. Let your fire department know that you are dependent on life-support devices.
  3. All ventilator users should keep a resuscitation bag handy. The bag delivers air through a mask when squeezed.
  4. If you get dialysis or other regular medical treatments, ask your provider for the plans in an emergency and where you should go for treatment if your site is not open after an emergency.

If you use Oxygen, here are two tips:

  1. Check with your provider to determine if you can use a reduced flow rate in an emergency to extend the life of the system. Record on your equipment the reduced flow numbers so that you can easily refer to them.
  2. Be aware of oxygen safety practices, especially during emergencies such as:
    • Avoiding areas where there are gas leaks or open flames.
    • Posting "Oxygen in Use" signs.
    • Always using battery powered flashlights or lanterns rather than gas lights or candles when oxygen is in use (to reduce fire risk). And
    • Keeping the shut-off switch for oxygen equipment near you so you can get to it quickly in case of emergency.

If you will be using a generator here are 4 tips:

  1. Make sure use of a generator is appropriate and realistic.
  2. A 2,000 to 2,500-watt gas-powered portable generator can power a refrigerator and several lamps. (A refrigerator needs to run only 15 minutes an hour to stay cool if you keep the door closed. So, you could unplug it to operate other devices). Operate these generators in open areas to ensure good air circulation.
  3. Safely store fuel. A challenge when you live in an apartment is knowing how to safely store enough gasoline and store a siphon kit as well.
  4. Test your generator regularly to make sure it will work when needed. Some generators can connect to the existing home wiring systems; always contact your utility company regarding critical restrictions and safety issues.

If you use rechargeable batteries here are six tips:

  1. Create a plan for how to recharge batteries when the electricity is out.
  2. Check with your vendor or supplier to find alternative ways to charge batteries. Examples include: connecting jumper cables to a vehicle battery or using a converter that plugs into a vehicle's cigarette lighter.
  3. If you substitute a vehicle battery for a wheelchair battery, the charge will not last as long as a charge for a wheelchair's deep-cycle battery.
  4. If you use a motorized wheelchair or scooter, store a lightweight manual wheelchair for emergency use, if possible.
  5. Know the working time of the charge for any batteries that support your systems. Stored extra batteries require periodic charging even when they are unused. If your survival strategy depends on storing batteries, closely follow a recharging schedule.
  6. When you have a choice, choose equipment that uses batteries that are easily purchased from nearby stores.

When the power is restored check to make sure the settings on your medical device have not changed (medical devices often reset to a default mode when power goes out).

You can find all this information on the companion tipsheet which can be found along with a transcript of this podcast, additional resource links on this topic, and other emergency preparedness podcasts at www.adapacific.org We would like to thank June Isaacson Kailes a Disability Policy Consultant for putting together today's show.

These podcasts are brought to you by the Pacific ADA Center on behalf of the ADA National Network, funded by NIDRR. If you have a question about ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, call us at 1-800-949-4232.