Nov 20, 2019
by Gary Pace M.D.
We had a really challenging experience in late October with the fires and the PG&E power shut-off. With the climate situation continuing to worsen, all scientific predictions are that these circumstances will increase in frequency.
Preparation is very important, especially if you have some medical issues.
• If you have significant medical needs or vulnerabilities, it may be a good idea to go out of the area and visit friends and family until the power comes back on.
• Remember, get the essentials stockpiled before the power gets shut off.
If you plan to stay in the area, here are some things to consider:
• Gasoline. Last outage, most gas suppliers were down, so people need to fill their tanks before the power goes out.
• Food. Refrigeration was down for most people, and many grocery stores and restaurants were closed. Getting food before the shutdown, and working to keep food cool with ice to prevent spoilage is important.
• Water. Public water systems generally were functioning, but people on wells with electric pumps could be without water. Filling bathtubs and other storage tanks prior to the event is helpful.
• Temperature regulation. With many heating and cooling systems being electric, people need to plan ahead to keep comfortable, especially when elders and children are in the house.
• Many pharmacies were closed during recent events. .
o It is a good idea to keep at least a 7 day supply of essential medications in the house at all times. Some of these events may last even longer.
o Fill any medication that is getting low before the power goes out. Keep aware of pharmacy weekend hours when planning.
o During an outage, other pharmacies may be able provide a small supply if your pharmacy is closed, or you may need to go out of the area to fill meds.
o Plan for proper storage of medications that need refrigeration (like insulin).
• People that are dependent on electricity due to their medical condition should sign up with PG&E for their “Medical Baseline” program at pge.com. They will inform you when they plan to shut off power, but you need to come up with a plan.
• If you are oxygen dependent, you need to have a plan for when the power goes out.
o If possible, consider going to stay with family or friends out of the area who have power.
o Having a generator is another solution.
o Going to the PG&E Customer Resource Center, or other place to plug in your equipment, can provide some help.
• Getting extra tanks and filling them prior can give some reserve.
• Contact your Medical Equipment provider if you have questions.
• Other equipment—CPAP, motorized scooters, nebulizers all require power and need similar planning as oxygen.
We are so dependent on our phones for connection with family and friends, news, and emergency contact. Many carriers did not have adequate backup. In Marin County, 60% of the towers were down at some point during the Oct. 26 power outage. Make plans—keep a land-line, check with your carrier, go out of the area—if this will be a hardship for you.
• When the power went out at the last event, most outpatient clinics were closed.
• Medical advice.
o If you need some medical guidance, try calling your provider.
o If they are not open or don’t have phone coverage, try calling your insurance company.
Many have on-call nurses to answer questions.
• Partnership HealthPlan 24/7 call number: 1-866-778-8873.
• Check your insurance card for other advice lines.
• Of course, if you are having a medical emergency, go to the Emergency room or call 911! Whenever possible, though, try to use these other avenues to avoid clogging up the valuable resource of the Emergency Room.
Many people find that their emotional state worsens during these types of events. Calling the Crisis line may be useful, or reach out to friends or your church.
These power shut-offs can be very upsetting, but some preparation can help prevent serious problems. Good communication and planning can definitely make a difference.
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