How to Survive an Extended Power Outage with Home Medical Equipment

Electricity is something we take for granted. When you rely on electricity to power medical equipment and medications at home, you may be surprised when storms (tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, etc.) or extreme weather conditions overload electrical grids and cause a power outage. In these times, it is essential to think about the future and not wait until we face a crisis.

Path to better well-being

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), any US resident could experience a power outage. However, customers in Alabama, Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Louisiana experienced the most power outages in 2020. Severe weather was a factor in all of these states.

If you or someone else in your home depends on medical equipment, plan ahead for a power outage.

  • Make a list of everyone in your home who relies on electricity for their medical needs. This could include breathing machines (CPAP, respirators, ventilators), electric wheelchairs and scooters, oxygen, suction or home dialysis equipment, and even a refrigerator to store medications, such as insulin. Post this list in an area of ​​your house that everyone (including babysitters or overnight guests) can read.
  • Plan how you will power/manage each item in the event of a power outage. Your plan may include backup batteries, a generator, and even asking local authorities (such as a hospital, fire station, and energy provider) for help. It is best to contact these sources before a power outage to ask how and if they can help. Also, determine which items could become an emergency depending on the amount of time the power is out. For example, if you must refrigerate medications, you may spend more time without power if you don’t constantly open and close the refrigerator door.
  • Identify emergency lighting, safe heating alternatives, and backup power sources for your mobile devices, appliances, and medical equipment.
  • Create an emergency power plan that includes model and serial numbers for your medical devices.
  • Have all equipment instruction manuals located in an easy-to-find location in the event of a power outage. Read the user manual or contact the manufacturer to find out if your medical device is compatible with batteries or a generator.
  • Fully charge your cell phone, battery-powered medical devices, and backup power sources if you know a disaster, such as a hurricane, is coming.
  • If possible, purchase manual alternatives for your electrical devices that are portable, reliable and durable. For example, a manual wheelchair, a walker or a cane as a backrest for an electric scooter.

Things to consider

Power outages can affect everyone differently, depending on where you live and the age of your community and utility infrastructure. For example, people living in rural areas and places with aging infrastructure may experience more frequent and longer-lasting power outages. They may also have limited access to the supplies they need to prepare for power outages. Power outages can also put people at greater risk for post-disaster hazards, such as food and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Backup power sources

There are two types of backup power solutions and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Things to remember for each include:


  • If you use hearing aids, have a supply of hearing aid batteries on hand.
  • Create a plan for how to recharge the batteries when the power goes out.
  • Consult your dealer/supplier to find alternative ways to charge the batteries. Examples include connecting jumper cables to a vehicle’s battery or using a converter that plugs into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter or accessory outlet. If you replace a vehicle battery with a wheelchair battery, the charge will not last as long as a deep cycle wheelchair battery. If you use a motorized wheelchair or scooter, try saving a lightweight manual wheelchair for emergency use.
  • Extra stored batteries require periodic charging even when not in use. If your survival strategy depends on battery storage, closely follow a recharging schedule.
  • Know the run time of the batteries that support your systems.
  • When you have a choice, choose equipment that uses batteries that can be easily purchased at nearby stores.


  • Make sure the use of a generator is appropriate and realistic. A 2,000 to 2,500 watt portable gas generator can power a refrigerator and several lamps. (A refrigerator needs to run only 15 minutes per hour to stay cool if you keep the door closed. Therefore, you can unplug it to operate other devices.)
  • Operate generators in open areas to ensure good air circulation. The challenge when living in an apartment is knowing how to safely store enough gasoline. Have a gas siphon kit on hand.
  • Test your generator from time to time to ensure that it will work when needed. Some generators can be connected to existing home wiring systems.
  • Always contact your utility company regarding critical restrictions and safety issues.

The Food and Drug Administration Guide “How to prepare for and handle power outages” for home medical device users is another useful planning resource. Use it to organize your medical device information, identify supplies to run your device, and know where to go or what to do during a power outage.

Life support needs

Contact your power and water companies about your life support device needs (home dialysis, suction, respirators, etc.) before a disaster. Many utilities maintain a list of “priority reconnection services” and a map of the locations of power-dependent customers for emergency use. Ask your utility companies’ customer service department if this service is available. Please note that even if you are on the “priority reconnection service” list, you may still be without power for many days after a disaster. It is vital that you have power backup and other options for your equipment. For example:

  • Respirator users should have a resuscitation bag on hand. The bag delivers air through a mask when squeezed.
  • If you are receiving dialysis or other medical treatments, talk to your healthcare provider about emergency plans and where you should go for treatment if your regular clinic is not available after an emergency.
  • If you use oxygen at home, check with your doctor to see if you can use a reduced flow rate in an emergency to extend the life of the system. Label your equipment with the reduced flow numbers so you can easily refer to them. Avoid areas where there are gas leaks or open flames and post “Oxygen in Use” signs around your home. You should also use battery-operated flashlights or lanterns instead of gas lights or candles when using oxygen (to reduce the risk of fire) and keep the oxygen equipment’s off switch near you so you can access it quickly in case of an emergency. .

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Will a power outage immediately affect my condition or put me in danger?
  • How long will my or a family member’s home medical device last without power?
  • Can the power company or fire station help in the event of a power outage?
  • Will my medical team alert me if the power outage occurs in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping?
  • How should I prepare for a power outage when traveling with my medical device?


Americans with Disabilities Act National Network: Emergency power planning for people who use electricity and battery-dependent assistive technology and medical devices

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: #PrepYourHealthForPowerOutages How to Survive a Power Outage with Complex Medical Issues National Preparedness Month


Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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