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Emergencies & Your Health

Planning ahead to protect ourselves in a disaster, including people who are medically vulnerable.

power outage

When the Power Goes Out

What can we do in an outage when someone depends on electricity for their health?

(That essential; device could be a specialized piece of medical equipment - or it could be heat for the house, or a water pump for running water, or refrigerators and stoves for food.)

If power will be out for awhile, it is wise to:

  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed (as much as possible); store food in insulated coolers if it might warm up dangerously.
  • Use a generator if one is available, but ONLY outdoors and away from windows.
  • Do not use a gas stove or oven, a gas or charcoal grill, or an open fire to heat the home.
  • Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges.
  • Have alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using electricity-dependent medical devices.
  • Check with local officials about locations of open warm-up shelters or cooling centers near you.

What About Electrical Medical Devices? 

Emergency planning for those who need electrical power to run their medical devices can be complicated! There are a lot of questions to ask in advance of an emergency, 

Most important: are there alternate models of that equipment available?

  • Does the device have an alternative power source already built in (like a battery back-up)? Or is there a separate back-up power source available from the device's manufacturer? 
  • If so, how long will the battery-powered version continue to work, at the levels currently used? (Hours? Days?) Can the batteries be changed if needed?
  • If the current device doesn't have a battery back-up, is a portable version of that device available? Smaller portable or "travel" versions often run for while off a charge.
  • Are there alternative ways to recharge the device (for example, using a car's accessory port, or attaching jumper cables to a vehicle battery)? 
  • Can a hand-powered or unpowered version of the device help? (For example, an unpowered wheelchair instead of an electric scooter.)

Also ask:

  • What happens if this device loses power in the middle of treatment?
  • Will a power surge cause this device to stop working?
  • Does this device still work if it goes without electrical power for a period time (and if so, for how long)?
  • If the device loses power, can it be restarted? Will the settings have to be adjusted when it restarts?

oxygen mask

Best Practices for Powered Medical Devices

  • Tell your family, neighbors, friends and loved ones about your medical device so they can assist you in an emergency.
  • Make sure there is enough water, oxygen, etc. to operate the device for at least an hour, in case of a sudden crisis.
  • Keep a supply of frequently-used or disposable pieces (like cannula, mouthpieces, filters, test strips) in your grab-and-go bag.
  • Pack equipment manuals along with other important documents in an evacuation kit.
  • Contact your city or county government’s emergency management agency or office, and also the nearest fire station. Many local offices keep note of the addresses of people with disabilities so they can be helped quickly in a sudden crisis, especially if someone is life-dependent on a medical device.
  • In a very visible place in the home, post information about the device & where it is located (the back of the front door is good) in case EMTs are called in and you can't tell them what you use.
  • Keep model information and note where the equipment came from (Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, etc.).

Replacing Medical Devices in an Emergency

If a medical device or durable medical equipment is damaged or lost in a declared emergency, check with the health insurance company to see whether they can expedite a replacement. (People on Medicare, start here to see whether your device is covered)

Get Advance Warning of Outages or Assistance in Emergencies

PG&E's Medical Baseline program offers more advance notice about upcoming power shutoffs, brown-outs, black-outs, and known power outages to people who need electrical medical devices, for those who have sign up in advance. PG&E states that those on the Medical Baseline registry will "receive extra notifications as part of this outreach, which may include additional phone calls or a door-bell ring to ensure they're aware and can prepare to stay safe. It is important that Medical Baseline customers acknowledge receipt of a notification by answering the phone and speaking or replying to the text message."

Plan Ahead to Get Assistance

CA Health & Human Services Agency has a hotline to help medical device users find the resources they need during power outages or rolling blackouts. This is not an emergency hotline. Instead use this phone service to plan ahead when an emergency warning has been announced for your area (whether it's a fire alert, severe weather warning, flood warning, etc.) Chances are when disaster happens, electrical power will go out. The hotline number is (833) 284-3473 . During power shutoffs or potential power shutoffs, hotline assistance will be available 9:00am-9:00pm. Assistance is available in many languages. 711 Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) are available for individuals with hearing or speech related disabilities. 

Individuals who have a problem getting the services or assistance that they need from their healthcare system can contact the Department of Managed Health Care’s Help Center at (888) 466-2219 or


During emergency events, California's network of Independent Living Centers (ILCs)  "can coordinate emergency preparedness, emergency assistive technology, and transition from temporary shelter" for people with disabilities who have already registered with them. The ILC for Santa Clara County is the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center in downtown San José, with a satellite office in Gilroy; for information on how to register, see their website:

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