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Mobile Medical Devices During Disaster: Power Outage

The follwing is second in a series of articles reviewing FDA guidelines on using Medical Devices in a disaster, with my comments in italics from my reflections about volunteering in medical clinics following Katrina. Power Outage:

Notify your electric company and fire department to let them know you have a medical device that needs power (e.g., ventilator, apnea monitor).
Local fire departments have paramedics who could assist in a more locally contained disaster, but patients depending on devices for life support, such as ventilators need their own disaster planning. Many already do, since they live in an assisted living or higher level of care. Even for those with less dependence on their devices should have a local plan to support their devices for a few days.

Read your user instructions or call your distributor or device manufacturer to find out if your device can be used with batteries or a generator.
Very essential. We were in St. Bernard parish 1 month after the flooding, and no services were available yet.

Locate a generator if possible.
Find a shelter.

Make sure you check for water before plugging in your device. Do not plug in a power cord if the cord or the device is wet.
Devices are not typically intended for immersion. Don't use your device if it's been submerged.

When the power is restored, check to make sure the settings on your medical device have not changed (often medical devices reset to a default mode when power is interrupted).
This is really important, that you have access to whomever needs to make those settings, if they are not able to be set by you.

Warning about Potential Carbon Monoxide Problems when Using Generators

Since many medical devices used in the home require a source of electrical power, generators are often used to supply electricity during a general power outage. The following points should be followed to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented.
Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window or door where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

This was an unfortunate problem and we saw some folks dizzy from carbon monoxide poisoning. I heard of cases of death as well.

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.