Beware of Blackouts: 6 Ways Caregivers Can Prepare for Power Outages

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Aug 19 2022.

Beware of Blackouts: 6 Ways Caregivers Can Prepare for Power Outages

Have you ever thought about what you would do in a blackout? You’re bound to experience a power outage eventually, regardless of where you live. But if you care for someone with special medical needs or mobility challenges, it’s crucial to plan ahead.

To get some insights on emergency preparation, we reached out to America’s “Save Your Life Coach,” Daniel Kilburn. Kilburn is a consultant and the author of Family Urban Disaster Planning: Three Key Elements | Shelter | Water | Food.

Below, we’ve highlighted 6 of Kilburn’s top tips and suggestions. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly what to do when the power goes out.

1) Schedule an appointment with your care recipient’s doctor

Before you do any emergency prep, it’s essential to have an understanding of your loved one’s medical needs. 

Specifically, Kilburn suggests asking their doctor what you need to have on hand in case of a power outage. They can review your care recipient’s health history and make suggestions you might not have even considered.

“Write down a list of the necessary items and then compare it with what you have on hand,” Kilburn said. “Then, collect the other items that aren’t readily available and add them to your emergency stockpile.”

2) Identify which medical devices need power

“Does your care recipient use a medical device that requires power 24 hours a day? Or does the device only need to be powered for a short period of time?” Kilburn said. “If it’s a ventilator or some other form of medical device that requires power, you’ll need to make sure you have access to electricity so it can operate.”

If you live in a rural area, off-grid power sources like gas-powered generators, portable batteries, or solar panels might be an option. If you’re on a fixed income or these backup power sources aren’t options, contact your county office of emergency management.

“Many counties have emergency shelters for the medically needy,” Kilburn said. “Call your local office of emergency management, and tell them you’re making plans to care for somebody during a power outage. Ask if there are any medical emergency shelters that may be available and what the requirements are to get into one. My county has a few, and requires a registration process.”

3) Stock up on pre-prepared and non-perishable snacks and drinks

“Pre-prepared and non-perishable food items are the staples of disaster planning,” Kilburn said. “Canned foods are cooked and can be consumed at room temperature. Alternate comfort foods, like granola bars, peanuts, nuts, and dried fruits are also good to have on hand.”

Start by identifying an area in your pantry or kitchen that you can dedicate to emergency food storage. Kilburn suggests labeling each item with its purchase date, and performing regular inspections, tossing anything that’s expired. 

Buy snacks and drinks that your care recipient regularly consumes, so they’re less likely to turn them down.

4) Let there be light

If a power outage lasts for hours or even days, you might need to move your care recipient in the dark. That’s especially true if the blackout is the result of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or storm.

“Stockpile a couple of battery-powered lanterns, and a light source for everyone in your home,” Kilburn said. “Since you may need both hands free, I recommend a headlamp. A high-lumen battery-powered LED lamp that straps around your head can help you see where you're going. 

Depending on the person you’re caring for, and their comfort level, you might also want to get one for them so they can see what’s happening around them.  A light source may help relieve their stress.”

5) First-Aid

Accidents and injuries can strike at any time, but they’re much more likely to occur in the dark. A first aid kit can make a hectic situation a little less so.

We’ve previously highlighted the best products to include in a caregiver’s first-aid kit, but here’s a quick refresher:

  • List of emergency contacts

  • Bandages

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Gauze

  • Oral thermometer

  • Antibacterial wipes

  • Incontinence products

  • Several changes of clothing

  • An emergency blanket

Some prescription medicines need to be refrigerated, so it’s also a good idea to have an empty styrofoam cooler and plenty of ice in the freezer.

6) Remember that practice makes perfect

Preparing for a power outage is only half the battle. To ensure the plan works, you have to test it.

“Put your emergency plan together and practice it,” Kilburn said. “Make sure the individual you’re caring for is part of the planning process, so they know what’s going on. Inclusion will relieve stress and also give them an opportunity to be engaged.”

Once you’ve established a plan for power outages, evaluate it regularly. “Review your plans twice a year and practice at least once a year,” Kilburn said. “Things change, so last year’s plan might not work for you this year.”

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.