How to stay safe during power outages if you’re electricity-dependent

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Sacramento’s electric utility, SMUD, is warning power outages will more than likely accompany this week’s intense storms. In a news brief issued on Tuesday, the utility predicted Wednesday’s outages could be worse than those that followed on New Year’s Eve, when more than 180,000 customers lost power. Storms are expected to continue through at least early next week.Losing electricity can be especially dangerous, even life-threatening, for people who are power-dependent: for breathing, or mobility, for example.

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According to SMUD, there are 12,000 people on their “med rate” program, which is for people who are power-dependent. The utility says 5,300 of these people are low income customers, who may be even more vulnerable in an emergency situation.  Jordan Davis with Disability Rights California says that people who have loved ones in congregate settings should check with the management of those facilities about their emergency plans, as many are not required by law to have them. Vance Taylor heads the Office of Access and Functional Needs for the state’s Office of Emergency Services. He has a few tips to help people who depend on electricity to prepare for  power outages during upcoming storms.

Create your support network

Taylor’s first tip is to “go five people deep.” In other words, make a list of five people who could help you evacuate in case of flood or other dire need. As someone who is wheelchair-bound himself, he says he’s been thinking about this for awhile.  “For me,” he says, “My wife is number one on my list. I’ve got a great neighbor and they’re willing to assist. I’ve got a friend from church that will help, I’ve got a colleague at work. My mom lives in the next town over.”The idea, he says, is: “I can’t expect that any one of those individuals is going to be available at any given time. But, if there are five people in my support network, odds are at least one of them should be able to help me when it’s needed.”

Plan as if no one’s coming for you

Once you have five people in your network, plan for what would happen if no one could come for you. Taylor says even if you’re signed up on a registry list, you also can’t expect that it will come through. 

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“Have a plan in place to shelter in place,” he says. “Do you have enough medicine on hand to last for a couple of days? Do you have backup batteries if you need them? If you have a generator, do you know how to use it safely? Do you have somebody that can assist you to operate that if needed?”

He says it’s important to plan to be able to hunker down for a few days, especially if there’s a chance you could be cut off from support networks if flooding does happen. 

Go somewhere there is power

There will likely be power available to you at warming centers, independent living centers, or you can check out SMUD’s outage map and see if there are locations like libraries or cafes that you could go to to recharge necessary tools. 

If you use an electric wheelchair, Taylor says be sure to bring your charger, as it’s the number one thing people forget when they go to a shelter. 

Have the conversation

Taylor says a super important part of emergency preparedness is having conversations with your friends and family about how they can help you if something happens.

“Sometimes we don’t want to have these conversations, because it’s scary,” he says. “There’s a feeling of being vulnerable sometimes. And so we naturally turn away from that.” 

Taylor suggests replacing these feelings with ones of empowerment. When you have a plan in place, and a prepared support network, you have options, he says. 

“And that only happens when you talk through these things.”

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