What to Do During a Power Outage If You Use an Oxygen Concentrator

Updated on January 15, 2018
Laura McKittrick profile image

A relative who has COPD and uses oxygen concentrators went through a 12-hour power outage in 2017. That prompted my research on this topic.

Thunderstorm landscape with a lightning bolt. Storms often cause power outages. It's best to be prepared when it happens.
Thunderstorm landscape with a lightning bolt. Storms often cause power outages. It's best to be prepared when it happens. | Source

If you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or one of the many other lung conditions that interfere with breathing, you may be using a home oxygen concentrator to supplement your oxygen. Whether you use a stationary unit that runs off an electric outlet or a portable one that uses rechargeable batteries, it’s essential for you to have a reliable source of electricity. A power outage could happen at any time. It’s more likely to hit during stormy weather, but many other things—a tree falling on power lines or an animal getting into a transformer—could also cut your electricity. Such an outage could be dangerous for you, and the longer it lasts, the greater the risk. Therefore it’s wise to plan ahead and be prepared.

What are your options? Here are some of the things you can do.

Work With Your Equipment Vendor

When your oxygen equipment is delivered, your vendor’s representative should train you in how to use and care for it properly. Pay close attention, and also read your manuals. For a portable, make sure you know how to change batteries and how long they can run on a charge. Find out how to connect your concentrator to various types of backup power sources.

Discuss your backup equipment choices with your vendor. If you have a portable, get extra batteries for it. Another possibility is compressed oxygen tanks, which don’t require electricity. Whatever you do, make sure you have enough to last through a fairly long power outage.

Also, find out how to contact your vendor for help. They should be able to deliver additional oxygen supplies if needed during an extended outage.

Contact Your Utility Company

Many power companies keep medical priority lists and will prioritize people with medical equipment to get their power restored. It’s your responsibility to make arrangements with them ahead of time. There’ll probably be a form for you to fill out, and you may need to have your doctor sign it. So call to see what their policy is and what you need to do.

Also, don’t just assume your power company knows your power is out because they won’t always know. Find out how to contact them to report an outage. Then when an outage does occur, let them know right away.

Have a Source of Backup Power

There are many ways to get electricity, at least temporarily, without relying on your local utility company. Here are some of them:

  • Your car, truck, or van. Your oxygen concentrator may have come with a cable that will let you plug it into the lighter socket in your vehicle. If not, you may be able to get one separately from your oxygen vendor or the manufacturer. If you plan to use this option, you’ll need to keep the gas tank full and the vehicle in good running order. And plan to run it outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • A generator, portable or fixed. If you go this route, make sure the generator can provide the consistent, medically rated power required for sensitive electronics. You’ll also need to test and maintain it frequently so it’s ready to go when it’s needed. Don’t forget to keep plenty of fuel on hand, preferably in a secure place.

  • Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). This combines a surge protector with rechargeable backup batteries. You plug it in between your concentrator and your wall outlet. That way, not only will it power your equipment and protect it from lightning, but also it can provide several hours of backup electricity. You could also plug it into a generator during an extended outage, which will recharge its batteries while powering your concentrator. Just be sure you get one that’s rated for medical equipment.

  • Solar power. This is becoming an increasingly viable option if you live where there’s enough sun.

  • Wind power. This is another climate-dependent possibility. It may work if you live in a rural area.

  • A water wheel, set up in a stream or river. It will need to be installed underwater so it can continue to run even when the water freezes. If your water source is underground, that may be ideal. Another possibility is a water wheel installed in your home’s water pipes. For this, you’ll need a reliable non-electric source of running water.

  • A battery pack and inverter system attached to your home’s power grid. This may work for people living in apartments, condos, and other places where the above options would be unsuitable.

  • Solo batteries, which could be connected using clamps and a cable for your car’s lighter socket. One option is 12-volt deep-cycle marine batteries. These could provide several hours of power but will quit without any warning when they’re drained. Another possibility is a standard car battery. Its disadvantage is that it will become weaker as its energy drains, making your concentrator sputter and work harder. With either type of battery, you’ll want to keep several on hand. For the marine batteries, you’ll need a charger to keep them fully loaded.

Get with an electrician, engineer, or another such expert to figure out what will work best for your situation and how to set it up.

Contact Community Services In Your Area

Check with your doctor and hospital to see if they’ll let you use their emergency power systems. Your local police, the fire department, your community center, and other service organizations are other possibilities. They may have generators that you can use to run your equipment until your electricity is restored, and might even be able to provide you with transportation. Contact them to see what’s available and what you should do if you need their help.

Develop Your Network

This is particularly important if you live alone. Try to find neighbors, family, friends, or other people nearby who know your situation and will check on you to make sure you’re all right. Make arrangements so you can contact them when needed. These people might be able to help with transportation and even a temporary place to stay.

Stay In A Hotel Or Motel

Keep a list of local hotels and motels handy, including their addresses and phone numbers. If your power outage doesn’t cover your entire area, you may be able to stay at one of these places until your power is restored.

Join Your Area’s Registry

There’s a push in many areas to start online registries to track vulnerable people who need special help during emergencies. Many of these began after disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the two-week summer outage in St. Louis in 2006. Not all areas have them, and where they do exist, they’re in various stages of development. They’re also affected by the availability of funds to provide the staff, computers, and other resources needed to create and maintain them.

Nevertheless, a well-developed registry can be valuable in helping emergency personnel, law enforcement, and other organizations to provide services to people who need them. Some of them use GPS to help streamline finding these people.

Ask around to see if there’s a registry in your area. If there is, join it. If not, maybe you can help to get one started.

Last of all...

Make sure you can contact the outside world at all times, even without electricity, especially if you live alone. For most people, this means keeping a cell phone. If you can’t handle a regular cell phone, there are special phones for seniors and the disabled that are easier to use. A tablet or laptop with a hotspot is another choice. Whatever you use, keep it fully charged, and have a complete list of contact information written down in a place where you can get to it easily when you need it.

Conclusion

Your situation and your community are unique. It will be up to you to do your homework, figure out what you need, and make your own arrangements. But don’t delay. If you aren’t prepared when a power outage hits, the results could be serious.

Sources

If you do an Internet search on oxygen concentrators and power outages, much of what you’ll find is pretty standard. The first article listed below is representative. However, I’ve listed several that provide additional information. I also called my local utility company and obtained a copy of their medical priority form, so I’m familiar with their procedure.

“Living With Oxygen: Are You Prepared For An Emergency?” by Do More With Oxygen. http://www.domorewithoxygen.com/bid/242733/Living-With-Oxygen-Are-You-Prepared-For-An-Emergency.

“Powering medical equipment during a utility blackout” by Michael Hackleman. http://www.backwoodshome.com/powering-medical-equipment-during-a-utility-blackout/. This is a rather technical article on providing backup power using a battery pack and inverter.

“EMP Survival: Power For Your Oxygen Concentrator” by Carmela Tyrell. http://www.survivopedia.com/how-to-power-an-oxygen-concentrator/. This discusses additional power sources, such as water wheels.

“What Will You Do if the Power Goes Out?” by Bill Norman. http://alsn.mda.org/article/what-will-you-do-if-power-goes-out. This provides power source ideas, including solo batteries.

“Keeping home life-support up during outages” by the Associated Press. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28619557/ns/health-health_care/t/keeping-home-life-support-during-outages/%20-%20.We_NlVtSzX4#.Wl0_1K6nHX4. This discusses registries.

“Tracking the Vulnerable: Medical Registries Provide Lifeline in Emergencies” by Jessica Hughes. http://www.govtech.com/health/Tracking-the-Vulnerable-Medical-Registries-Provide-Lifeline-in-Emergencies.html. This is another article that discusses registries.

© 2018 Laura McKittrick

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