Monday, August 3, 2015

When is a Power Outage an Emergency?

By Patricia Billinger 
Today, we received a phone call from Lee Ann, a Conifer resident who was panicked and nearly in tears. Storms had caused power outages in several communities in Colorado, and her power company estimated that it could be several days before electricity was restored. Her boyfriend needs electricity to run his oxygen machine, she utilizes multiple sclerosis medications that need to be refrigerated, and their source of water is a well that relies on an electric pump. She was worried that the power outage could turn life-threatening.

“Power outages come and go, and usually within an hour we’re back up. This is two days,” Lee Ann said. “I was panicked. I was freaking out.”

Our disaster response on-call volunteer , Sean, asked Lee Ann various questions and calmly helped her make a plan so that the lack of electricity would not turn life-threatening. He connected her with an oxygen supplier who could provide backup tanks that don’t need power to deliver oxygen and helped her identify a way to keep her medications refrigerated by using a cooler and bags of ice. Lee Ann also realized she could use gallon jugs of purchased water to ensure they had enough water for drinking and sanitation. By the end of their conversation, Lee Ann had a plan and was no longer terrified for her boyfriend’s safety.
A hand-crank radio, flashlight and phone-charger
can come in handy in a power-outage.

“I think we got some things accomplished. Unfortunately we still don’t have power or water, but we got oxygen and that’s the main thing. You gotta breathe,” Lee Ann said.

Often, power outages accompany the broader destruction caused by natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods. In those cases, the Red Cross is already responding to provide safe shelter, food, comfort and other assistance to people fleeing for their safety.

But what about when the power goes out and homes aren’t otherwise affected? Is that still an emergency?

For most people, the answer is no: it’s an inconvenience, but lack of electricity doesn’t directly threaten safety. However, access to electricity can be life-essential for people with medical concerns. And everyone should have an emergency plan for what to do in the event of loss of power.

“When crises strike, people sometimes struggle to think through solutions due to the stress of the situation. That’s why having a plan is so important – you’ve thought of your solutions in advance and can simply implement and adjust them,” said George Sullivan, Director of Community Preparedness and Resilience for the Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming. “Planning helps to prevent panicking.”

It’s much easier to think creatively and exhaustively about your needs and how you’ll meet them when you’re not under the crunch of necessity. Take a few minutes now to assess your own home and the needs of yourself and your loved ones. Answer these questions, and write them down somewhere:

  • What would you do to stay safe and comfortable during a power outage? What would you need? Items could include flashlights, back-up phone batteries, crank-radio, extra blankets, non-perishable food, water, hand-wipes, etc. 
  • Do you have a place to stay outside your neighborhood if the power will be out for an extended period? 
  • What if the weather was extremely hot? Extremely cold? 
  • What medications or medical needs do you or loved ones have that could be affected by a power outage? What is your plan to meet those needs?
  • How will you communicate and receive news? Do all of your devices rely on electricity?
When you plan ahead, the “power” is in your hands to stay safe and comfortable when the electricity is out.

For her part, Lee Ann encourages anyone on oxygen to ensure they have a two-day backup supply and recommends that everyone keep a supply of water on hand. She says she hopes others will learn from her experience and get prepared now – not when the power is out and it’s too late.

Find more tips and information here: .

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