86: Power Outage Preparedness

Eric Cote, an expert in emergency power preparedness, tells us why it’s important to know who relies on electricity for their medical devices when power is lost in a community; Stephen Heck, an ASTHO Disability and Preparedness Specialist working in...

Eric Cote, an expert in emergency power preparedness, tells us why it’s important to know who relies on electricity for their medical devices when power is lost in a community; Stephen Heck, an ASTHO Disability and Preparedness Specialist working in South Dakota, says his time helping the state plan a new training program has been rewarding; and ASTHO publishes a fresh episode of the Public Health Review podcast about Health Equity Zones.

ASTHO Brief: Leveraging the HHS emPOWER Program to Enhance Power Outage Planning

ASTHO Brief: When the Power Fails – Helping Life-Support Equipment Users

ASTHO Blog Article: Embedded – When Disaster Strikes for People Living with Disabilities

ASTHO webpage: Public Health Review

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, December 16th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Natural disasters, like the tornadoes that ripped across the nation's mid-section nearly a week ago, cost lives and disrupt livelihoods. For people living with disabilities or medical conditions, the impacts are made worse when they can't get electricity needed to power saving devices.

Eric Cote is an expert in emergency power preparedness advising ASTHO on several CDC-funded projects. He talks about power assessments in today's morning conversation.

Why do public health agencies need to assess the electric power needs of patients who live in their communities and jurisdictions?


Well, public health agencies need to be mindful of the needs of individuals who are dependent on electric-powered medical devices because they are often the most vulnerable members of the community. These are often individuals that have disabilities that result in access and functional needs that require added support, either from equipment such as ventilators or oxygen concentrators, as well as the added support from medical providers, caregivers.

So, these are truly the vulnerable members of a community, and they deserve the full attention of public health officials. And they certainly get it through many of the programs that are available today.


When we talk about doing an assessment, that sounds like a big project.

How is that done?


Well, in terms of assessing the scope of a problem within a jurisdiction in terms of how many individuals are out there in their homes depending on electric-powered medical equipment, it is a sizable undertaking.

But, thankfully, there are some really good tools in place to help public health officials understand just the scope of what they're dealing with; and one of the best resources on this front is a federal tool called the emPOWER tool. And it is a very robust tool that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed about eight years ago that provides public health officials with information about the number of Medicare beneficiaries in their jurisdiction that depend on an electric-powered medical device.


Once they have the information in hand, what do they generally do with it?


So, one of the important points to make here about the emPOWER program is that its primary service—and this is publicly available to anyone who goes to the website—is this aggregated information about the total number of Medicare beneficiaries who depend on electric-powered medical equipment.

However, within the last several years, HHS has expanded the program and they now have very helpful, much more detailed information that authorized public health officials can access; and one of those pieces of information is still aggregated information that is not identified to an individual person. But it will tell an authorized public health person how many ventilator users there are in the community, how many dialysis patients are using in-home dialysis, how many oxygen concentrator patients there are in a community; so, that is taking that initial swath of information and getting much more granular so officials can do more detailed planning.


Finally, ASTHO has two new articles on this topic available online right now.

What is the point of those two articles? What are we trying to accomplish with those?


Right, so, ASTHO has produced two resources that I was very pleased to help develop. They're called ASTHOBriefs, and one of them is a deep dive on the emPOWER resource, which we've talked about during this interview. The goal of this brief is to really provide someone who doesn't know the emPOWER program essentially the key elements they need to understand to make effective use of emPOWER.

Now, the other issue we haven't talked about yet in this conversation—in terms of what other ways public health officials can help the individuals who are out there and are at risk—is the use of what is considered a special needs registry. Now, this is a topic within the disability community that is a controversial topic; and ASTHO is very mindful that there are a range of views on registries within the disability advocacy community, including some who consider these to be dangerous approaches to helping individuals with access and functional needs, and there are others who are actively using registries. So, one of the other ASTHOBriefs that I was happy to help put together is about registries and what a public health official needs to be aware of if he or she is considering using a registry.

So, essentially a special needs registry is a tool that government agencies often set up to allow individuals with disabilities that may need extra support during the power outage to register their name, their address, information about their unique need with the state's registry so that when there is a disaster, the state can go to this list and start reaching out to the individuals on that list.


ASTHO has produced two briefs on this topic. You can read them using the links in the show notes.


South Dakota will launch a training program in the new year teaching first responders and others how to better serve people living with disabilities.

Stephen Heck is an ASTHO disability and preparedness specialist. He helped the state research and develop the training concept and says his work this year has been rewarding.


Sometimes it takes time and not always as fast as I would like it to go, but there's been progress.

Like, you know, from no training to having training; or, you know, having now people asking you about getting other trainings within their department so that they can understand the needs better; or, you know, getting invited to look over some of their state documents for preparedness—like, there are functional and access needs documents for preparedness. You've been able to look at it and go, "All right, no, it's a great document. And maybe there's a few things that we could work on here." And, you know, actually having them, you know, receive that feedback and, "You know, you made some great points," from me looking at that and revising this.

So, you know, it is having an impact.


Read more about disaster preparedness for people living with disabilities using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO has published a new podcast episode about health equity zones.

The latest episode of Public Health Review includes conversations with Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott from Rhode Island and Katie Lamansky from Idaho. Find out how this model is turning conventional public health approaches upside down.

The conversation is available now everywhere you stream audio.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.


Steven Stack MD

Kentucky Commissioner for Public Health

Eric Cote

Project Director