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Emergency Preparedness Tips for People with POCs

COPD Emergency Preparedness

Around the world, we have seen an increase in the frequency of natural disasters in the last few years. From hurricanes and tornadoes to flooding and earthquakes to the increase in widespread wildfires, each of these emergency situations comes with the risk of extended power outages and potential displacement. For most people, power outages are a mere inconvenience. However, for people who are dependent on supplemental oxygen, power outages and other emergency situations can be life-threatening. In order to avoid running out of oxygen, supplemental oxygen users must plan ahead and prepare for emergency situations. For people who rely on medical oxygen, avoiding treatment disruption during a disaster must be a top priority.[1]

Preparing for Emergencies and Power Outages

Most people are well aware of the destruction that recent natural disasters have left in their aftermath. For people who rely on supplemental oxygen, watching how these emergency situations have impacted people with health problems is a real wake up call. Perhaps this is why a recent National Household Survey released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that approximately 57% of the American public have taken three or more basic actions to prepare for an emergency and 94% have taken at least one action to prepare.[2] Generally speaking, people living in areas with a higher risk of certain disasters are better prepared. If you require oxygen therapy, your risk is automatically higher, so it is smart to prepare now. 

Emergency Preparedness Tips

FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are encouraging families across the country to create a disaster preparedness plan. If you or someone you love requires oxygen therapy, disaster preparedness is vital. To help you begin your plan today, you can visit www.Ready.gov for tips on making your emergency plan. To get you started, consider the following tips:[3]

  • Stay connected – Sign up for emergency alerts, including Wireless Emergency Alerts, the Emergency Alert System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to keep you updated about various emergencies. Make sure you have a battery-powered radio in case your phone runs out of battery power.
  • Recharge regularly – Create a plan for recharging portable oxygen concentrator (POC) batteries during extended power outages and keep an external battery charger available to help keep you from becoming stranded without oxygen. If you know a storm is coming that could cause you to lose power, make sure you charge everything beforehand so you are prepared, just in case.
  • Be informed – Know the battery life for each battery that supports your POC to help you prevent unexpected treatment interruptions.
  • Don’t wait – Develop and practice an emergency plan with members of your household before an emergency occurs so you are well-prepared for any catastrophic event.
  • Plan ahead – Make sure you have an emergency kit with supplies including a flashlight, battery-powered radio and phone with extra fresh batteries, any medications, copies of prescriptions and additional oxygen supplies.
  • Inform others – Notify your local power company and police or fire station that there is a supplemental oxygen user in your home so that you are eligible for any priority reconnect services, emergency generators or other services offered in your area.
  • Collaborate – Ask your oxygen supply company precisely how much oxygen you will need in case of a power outage. Then, make sure you have a compressed oxygen cylinder with that amount of oxygen easily accessible in your home for emergencies. Label it clearly, ask how to prepare it and make sure you know how to use it properly. This is especially important in case your home is difficult to access or roads are unusable, making oxygen supply delivery difficult. 
  • Talk to your doc – Reducing your oxygen flow rate during an emergency may help extend the life of your battery or oxygen supply. However, this should only be done under the instruction and supervision of your doctor.
  • Install an emergency generator – Purchase an emergency generator, especially if you live in a remote area, so you have an alternative power source when disaster strikes. They may be costly, but the safety and security they offer are priceless.
  • Organize – Establish a support team to call on during an emergency, including friends, neighbors, family members, church members, co-workers or anyone who lives nearby and would be willing to lend a hand.

How To Charge Your POC During a Power Outage

Having extra supplies, including batteries and external charger, on hand is critical. However, what happens if your power outage extends beyond the amount of power you have stored in your extra batteries?

Power outages seem to be more and more common these days. Severe weather has been the primary cause of extended power outages across the United States.[4] Data from the Department of Energy shows that weather-related power outages have increased by 67% since the year 2000. People in California have dealt with rolling blackouts over the past few years, while Texas residents saw their powergrid overwhelmed and ultimately fail.

Dealing with an extended power outage can be tedious for a healthy person. If you rely on a portable oxygen concentrator for oxygen therapy, an extended power outage can be a hazard to your health. For some people, being without power can even be a life threatening situation. You need a plan in place for charging your portable oxygen concentrator once your battery power has run out. If you have an emergency generator, that might be all the solution you need. However, many people may not have an emergency generator, so then what should you do?

At this point, it’s time for you to get a little creative. If you have a car and roads are safe and accessible, one easy solution is to take a drive. While you drive, plug in your portable oxygen concentrator using your DC power cable for the car. Remember not to plug your POC into the car while the car is off, as you may drain the battery. It is also important not to turn your car on and leave it running in the garage, as deadly amounts of carbon monoxide can build up. If charging this way is not possible for you, you still have options.

Plan Ahead With an Inverter Generator or Universal Power Supply

If you use an oxygen concentrator, it is critical that you have a plan for what to do if the power goes out. You should always have an emergency supply of oxygen on hand, as well as a plan to access additional oxygen if and when you need it. Your emergency supply of oxygen should not require electricity so that you can still use it during a power outage. Beyond that, what should you have in place? Below are a few options for providing power to your oxygen concentrator in the case of an extended power outage. Keep in mind that, whatever supplies you have, it is essential that you know how to use them correctly before an emergency occurs. That way you are less likely to experience an interruption in your oxygen supply. 

If you are able, you can prepare for emergencies and power outages by planning ahead and purchasing an inverter generator or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A UPS can be slightly less expensive, depending on the wattage it can deliver, while an inverter generator gives you more options. An inverter generator is a self-contained pick-up-and-go generator that can be used anywhere to provide power. They can be recharged via solar power or via electricity, or some models offer a trickle charge feature which allows your generator to maintain a charge even when it is not in frequent use. A UPS, on the other hand, is installed in your home, where it is charged while your power is on. When the power goes out, the UPS kicks in, providing the power you need in an emergency. 

These solutions are reliable and easy to use, and many models can provide the power you need to recharge your portable oxygen concentrator. Double check with the manufacturer before purchasing to ensure that your oxygen concentrator can be safely used with the power source you are interested in. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer of your oxygen concentrator to find out if the power source is appropriate for use with your unit. 

Being Prepared Could Save Your Life

Remember that even with these extra power sources, you will benefit from planning ahead for emergencies with the right supplies. That includes having extra batteries on hand for your portable oxygen concentrator unit, and a plan for what to do if your power outage or emergency situation lasts longer than a few hours. Making a plan for emergencies and natural disasters can save you from a frightening situation, but if you require medical oxygen, making an emergency plan could also save your life. 

If you require supplemental oxygen during an emergency and need help getting access to oxygen or power, contact a medical center right away if possible. They may direct you to head to the hospital if it’s accessible, or help may be able to come to you. If you cannot contact help, having a plan can make all the difference in helping you stay safe. 

For more information on how to create an emergency preparedness plan, visit the American Red Cross or Ready.gov. You can get help creating your emergency plan, gathering necessary supplies and more. Plan ahead so that you are ready to stay as safe as possible in an emergency situation.

Sources: 

[1] Kobayashi, M. Hanagama, S. Yamanda, M. Yanai. Home oxygen therapy during natural disasters: lessons from the great East Japan earthquake. European Respiratory Journal Apr 2012, 39 (4) 1047-1048; DOI: 10.1183/09031936.00149111.

[2] FEMA.gov.Sixty Percent of Americans Not Practicing for Disaster: FEMA urges everyone to prepare by participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30. Released April 28, 2015.

[3] Kailes, June Isaacson. Emergency Safety Tips for People Who Use Electricity and Battery-Dependent Devices. 2006. Published and distributed by the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center and June Isaacson Kailes, Disability Policy Consultant

[4] Singh, Maanvi. “’California and Texas Are Warnings’: Blackouts Show US Deeply Unprepared for the Climate Crisis.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2021, www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/19/power-outages-texas-california-climate-crisis. 

Additional Sources:

“Are You Prepared for an Emergency?” COPD Foundation, COPD Foundation, 30 Dec. 2015, www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/COPD-Digest/Article/360/Are-You-Prepared-for-an-Emergency.aspx. 

“Difference Between UPS & Inverter with Comparison Chart.” Circuit Globe, Circuit Globe, 18 Feb. 2021, circuitglobe.com/difference-between-ups-and-inverter.html.

“FEMA Releases 2018 National Household Survey Results on Individual and Community Preparedness.” Ready.gov, Department of Homeland Security, Sept. 2019, community.fema.gov/story/FEMA-Releases-2018-National-Household-Survey-Results-on-Individual-and-Community-Preparedness?lang=en_US. 

Fredrickson, Kim. “Coping When the Electricity Goes Out.” Pulmonary Fibrosis News, 1 Sept. 2017, pulmonaryfibrosisnews.com/2017/09/05/pulmonary-fibrosis-patient-coped-electricity-out/. 

Gaikwad, Somesh. “Do You Need a UPS or an Inverter?” New York Engineers, New York Engineers, 20 Mar. 2021, www.ny-engineers.com/blog/do-you-need-a-ups-or-an-inverter. 

“How To Prepare For Emergencies.” American Red Cross, The American National Red Cross, Accessed 27 Mar. 2021, www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies.html. 

Leader, Deborah. “Oxygen Therapy During a Power Outage.” Verywell Health, About, Inc., 16 Feb. 2021, www.verywellhealth.com/oxygen-emergency-tips-914959. 

“Make A Plan.” Ready.gov, Department of Homeland Security, 26 Feb. 2021, www.ready.gov/plan. 

“Power Inverter Applications for Oxygen Concentrator.” RV Solar Kits And Inverter Power Systems, OutsideSupply.com, 23 July 2020, www.outsidesupply.com/power-inverter-applications/. 

“Power Inverter for Oxygen Machine .” Invertpro, Invertpro, Updated 6 Mar. 2021, www.invertpro.co/power-inverter-oxygen-machine/. 

“Power OFF: Extreme Weather and Power Outages.” Climate Central, Climate Central, 5 Oct. 2020, medialibrary.climatecentral.org/resources/power-outages. 

Rico, Anthony. “Power When Away From Home | Using a Power Inverter.” BatteryStuff.com: We Have The Stuff, BatteryStuff.com, 4 Mar. 2020, www.batterystuff.com/blog/using-a-power-inverter.html. 

“Running an Oxygen Concentrator with a UPS Battery Backup System.” MEDI-PRODUCTS Battery Backup Emergency Power Systems, MEDI-PRODUCTS, 16 Apr. 2018, www.mediproducts.net/blog/of-running-an-oxygen-concentrator-with-a-ups. 

Witman, Sarah. “The Best Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 June 2016, www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-uninterruptible-power-supply-ups/. 

“500W MPPT Premium Solar Generator with 500W Inverter, Portable Battery Box, 100A, 12V, USB.” Cutting Edge Power, Cutting Edge Power, Accessed 28 Mar. 2021, cuttingedgepower.com/products/1200w-mppt-premium-solar-generator

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