In the 21st century, we are highly dependent on energy sources like natural gas and electricity. We use fuel to power our cars, cook and heat our homes, and we use electricity to charge our phones, computers, and more. But what happens when we lose access to these resources due to a natural disaster or some other problem? In some situations, this can be a minor nuisance; but in others, it could be life-threatening.
Fortunately, hospitals and other medical facilities have back-up generators that allow them to use life-saving medical equipment even in the event of a power outage. But what about individuals living at home who are reliant on electronic devices? What safety measures are in place to ensure these people are able to use the medical devices they need to stay healthy?
The truth is that there aren’t many safety nets in place to help people experiencing power outages, so this is why it’s always important to be prepared, especially if you depend on electricity to power your medical equipment. In this post, we are going to highlight all the steps you should take to be prepared for a power outage if you have COPD or any other chronic respiratory disease.
What Causes Power Outages?
Before we can discuss the different ways to plan for power outages, it’s important to understand what actually causes them. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household experienced one outage in 2016, accounting for 112 minutes of lost power. Although this is the average, this does not mean that power outages cannot last longer. Depending on what causes the power outage, they could last anywhere between several days and several weeks. So you should always plan for the worst-case scenario.
According to Constellation, the most common cause of power outages are severe weather and natural disasters. High winds, snowstorms, and thunderstorms can all knock power lines over causing entire neighborhoods to lose power. Extreme temperatures can also lead to power outages if it results in people overusing their air conditioners or heaters. There are so many different variables that come into play, so it’s best to always be prepared for an outage, regardless of the time of year and what the weather is like.
Install an Emergency Power System
The first thing you should do to prepare for power outages is to have an emergency power system in your home. There are many different options for powering your home in the event of an emergency, so you will have to do a lot of research to determine which one will best meet your needs. However, a good place to start is by contacting your utility company. Some utility companies provide backup generators for people with medical conditions free-of-charge. Others may add an additional fee to your monthly utility bills. Below are some of the most widely used emergency power supplies:
Home Backup Generators
A home backup generator, also known as a standby generator, is a permanent power generator that is installed outside of your home. These generators resemble air conditioning units and they run off of your existing natural gas or LP fuel supply. While home backup generators are the most costly option for backup power, they are also the most convenient and reliable. These units are designed to turn on automatically when a power outage is detected, so you won’t have to go outside to turn it on. Since these generators are permanent, they will give your home’s value a nice boost if you ever decide to sell it. As you can imagine, home backup generators are extremely advanced, so you will need to hire a professional to install one for you.
A portable generator, also known as a recreational generator, is a type of generator that’s commonly used for camping and other outdoor activities. However, they can also be a good way to power your home during a power outage. Unfortunately, these devices don’t start automatically when your power goes out, so you’ll have to go through the hassle of setting it up when your power goes out. What’s more, these units use fossil fuels which can exacerbate your respiratory symptoms, so be sure to never use one inside of your home. The benefit of portable generators is that they are much more affordable than home generators.
Just like the name suggests, solar generators are powered by the sun. The only scenario where you should purchase a solar generator is if you live in an area that is very sunny to ensure that your generator is fully charged when you need it most. Since these generators don’t burn any fuel, they won’t exacerbate your lung symptoms and they aren’t noisy. Solar generators are fairly expensive but they are worth the price for many people.
Install a Medical Alert System
An emergency alert system is a device designed to alert medical professionals if you experience a medical emergency like a COPD exacerbation or a fall. Each medical alert system comes with a pendant that you wear around your neck and a receiver that plugs into the wall. In the event of an emergency, press the button on the pendant and an ambulance will be dispatched to your home.
What many people don’t know is that many medical alert systems have backup batteries that will kick in if there is a power outage. Generally speaking, most backup batteries will last a day or two, but you should speak with the company that manufactures it to learn the full details. Medical alert systems are an invaluable tool to have when the power goes out so be sure to get one installed as soon as possible.
Another way to prevent falls when the power goes out is to have a flashlight on hand. Chances are, even if you have a generator in your home, you’re going to want to conserve energy by keeping as many lights off as possible. A flashlight will help you navigate your home safely while doing so.
Keep Backup Batteries or Oxygen Tanks
COPD patients have a variety of options at their disposal when it comes to medical oxygen. Some of the most popular options include oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks, and oxygen concentrators. The one you choose as your “backup” oxygen supply in the event of a power outage will depend on what your needs are.
The most notable benefit of having backup oxygen tanks is that they don’t require electricity in order to operate. Oxygen tanks have compressed oxygen inside them, so all you need to do is connect your nasal cannula and you’ll have access to medical-grade oxygen. However, the downsides of oxygen tanks are that they are very heavy and bulky so you won’t be able to get around your home while you’re using one.
Liquid oxygen tanks work a little differently than normal oxygen tanks. Rather than storing the oxygen as a gas, these tanks store oxygen as a liquid. Since gas is expanded, storing it as a liquid allows you to carry more of it with the same size and weight tank. This will allow you more freedom in the event of a power outage. However, there is one glaring flaw with liquid oxygen tanks which makes them impossible to recommend for this situation. Oxygen needs to be stored at very low temperatures in order to stay as a liquid, so over time liquid oxygen will begin to evaporate, According to the Lung Institute, liquid oxygen will evaporate in a week or two depending on the type of tank you have.
Last but certainly not least there are oxygen concentrators. Unlike the previous two oxygen devices, concentrators are electronic devices. They work by drawing in ambient air and putting out medical-grade oxygen. It may seem silly to use an electronic oxygen device during a power outage, but you may be surprised to find that they are actually the best backup oxygen device for this situation. Portable oxygen concentrators run off detachable batteries that can be stored for emergencies.
These batteries are also very small and only weigh about a pound so you can store as many as you’d like. One important thing to note is that batteries should be used from time-to-time in order to help them keep their charge. Be sure to swap out the batteries occasionally so that each one is being used. Let’s take a look at some of the best portable oxygen concentrators to have during a power outage.
Best Oxygen Concentrators for a Power Outage
The FreeStyle Comfort is currently one of the most popular portable oxygen generators on the market. It’s a pulse dose portable oxygen concentrator meaning it has built-in technology that tracks your breathing and only delivers oxygen when you inhale through the nasal cannula. What this means is that it’s able to conserve electricity while still giving you the oxygen you need to stay healthy. With the larger 16-cell battery, the FreeStyle Comfort can run for up to 16 hours on one charge.
The FreeStyle Comfort is one of only a few portable oxygen concentrators that weigh at or under 5 pounds. Additionally, it’s one of the most compact concentrators so you can carry it around on your shoulder with ease. In the event of a power outage, the FreeStyle Comfort will provide you with plenty of battery life, ease-of-use, and mobility. It has a maximum oxygen output of 1,050 milliliters per minute (ml/min).
The Inogen G5 is another pulse dose portable oxygen concentrator under 5 pounds. With the 8-cell battery, the G5 weighs only 4.7 and has a battery duration of 6 ½ hours. The battery life can be doubled with the 16-cell battery affording you up to 13 hours of battery life on one charge. Just like with the FreeStyle Comfort, the batteries are very small and lightweight so you can store as many as you think you’ll need to make it through a power outage.
One of the great things about the Inogen G5 is the number of accessories there are for it. The G5 external battery charger is very useful if you’re planning for a power outage because it allows you to charge one battery separate from the G5 unit itself. In other words, it allows you to charge your batteries more quickly so that you can always be prepared. Another great accessory to have during a power outage is the DC charging cable. This is a type of cable that allows you to charge your G5 in the car via a cigarette outlet. Keep a DC charging cable in your car so that you’re always prepared if you need to leave the house in a hurry. The best part about this is that you can use your device while it’s charging meaning there will never be an interruption in your oxygen treatment.
The last portable oxygen concentrator we’d like to recommend for power outages is the Respironics SimplyGo. Certain patients are prescribed continuous flow oxygen which is where oxygen is administered irrespective of the user’s breathing rate. When this is the case, the SimplyGo is the lightest and most reliable unit available to you. The SimplyGo has a maximum flow rate of 2 liters per minute (LPM) at it weighs only 10 pounds which is significantly lighter than most continuous flow POCs on the market. Unfortunately, the SimplyGo offers significantly less battery life than the aforementioned POCs, so you may need to keep even more batteries charged.
Create a List of Contacts
Having a convenient list of contacts you can call during a power outage is very important. You don’t want to be searching the internet using what little electricity you have to find out the number of your utility company or your neighbor’s phone number. Take some time right now to write down your contacts so that you don’t have to do it when an emergency occurs.
Firstly, you should write down the numbers of a couple of friends or family members who could come pick you up if your power is out. Secondly, you should have your doctor or pulmonologist’s number as well as the closest medical oxygen company. If you happen to run out of oxygen for one reason or another you can reach out to them and have them deliver some oxygen tanks. Lastly, don’t forget to write down the number of your utility company. Be sure to call them immediately when the power goes out so that you can plan accordingly.
Keep Non-Perishable Food in Your Home
One of the most notorious issues with power outages is that all of the food in your fridge will begin to spoil. This can be absolutely devastating if you like to keep your fridge well-stocked with lots of food and beverages. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of buying healthy non-perishable food at the grocery store that can hold you over if you experience a power outage. Apples are a great source of energy and they will stay fresh for up to a week while sitting on the counter. However, be sure to ask your doctor about non-perishable foods that are healthy for COPD patients.
Speak With Your Doctor
Last but certainly not least, you can and should speak with your doctor about managing your COPD during a power outage. Your doctor might have some helpful information or resources for you to refer to. Most likely, he/she will tell you the minimum flow rate you’re allowed to use on your oxygen tank or concentrator in order to maintain your blood oxygen levels. Also, be sure to ask your doctor if it’s okay to cease your pulmonary rehabilitation routine while the power is out so that you can conserve your oxygen supply.
While it’s rare to experience a power outage that lasts more than a couple of hours, it’s crucial that you are prepared for the worst-case scenario. Studies have shown that power outages are associated with a greater risk of exacerbation and hospitalization in COPD patients. Ensuring that you always have access to a dependable medical oxygen supply will help you to stabilize your respiratory condition.
What’s more, you should work together with your doctor to create a power outage action plan. You may be able to reduce your oxygen flow rate in order to conserve your oxygen concentrator battery life during a prolonged power outage. And ideally, you’ll have some sort of backup generator that you can use to hold you over until the electricity returns to your home.
Here at LPT Medical, we can help you prepare for power outages by providing you with a durable and reliable portable oxygen concentrator like the Caire FreeStyle Comfort or the Inogen One G5. While we can’t guarantee that your battery will last the duration of the outage, we can help you find the best concentrator for your needs. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us either by email or by phone.