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Power Brown Outs- A Threat For People With TBI by Charles Watson


Posted on June 12, 2021

The recent power outages in California due to extreme heatwave or the Texas blackout due to subfreezing temperatures are nothing short of disasters. On October 16th, 2019, before preparing for bed, 67-year old Robert Mardis made sure his oxygen tank and CPAP machine were securely hooked up and working. Then, around 3:30 a.m, utility company PG&E turned off the electricity at millions of homes, including Mardis. He was found dead in the morning, and his heart gave out. 

Such incidents have sparked major concerns to people who rely on life support equipment to survive. In August 2020, millions of Californians were left without power during a heatwave, raising the risk of heatstroke and death. TBI patients in hospitals and at home that relied on a ventilator to breathe had to be switched over to a backup battery to keep the machine running. In addition, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the elderly and the sick are forced to remain indoors. 

Over the past several decades, Americans have benefitted from in-home technology, which can help extend lifespans while staying at home. However, oxygen machines, home dialysis units, electric wheelchairs, stairlifts, medication nebulizers, and infusion pumps depend on a reliable power supply. Flickering lights, rapid switching on and off appliances, and interrupted internet connection can all be alarming for a TBI victim. 

Moreover, the rolling power brownout two days in a row during the historic heatwave is on a collision course with the complex home-based medical care. Not to forget that reduced and varying levels of electricity can ruin devices and appliances that cannot regulate the amount the power it receives. Brownouts can last from seconds to hours, and the best way to shorten the length of a brownout is to reduce your consumption of power. 

Power Brownouts- what to do

Brownouts can wreak havoc with IT loads and can be worse than blackouts.  Switching off all devices, including TVs, cellphones, microwaves, refrigerators, and laptops, can prevent a brownout from turning into a blackout. Brownouts can occur from inside or outside the home. External brownouts may be due to high electrical usage or severe weather. Power grids can experience overload when several air conditioning units are being used in the neighborhood or failure at a local power plant. Interior brownouts are caused by plugging in too many appliances in one circuit, dysfunctional electrical wiring throughout the house, and faulty wiring for large home equipment.

If you have older adults at home or people with disabilities due to brain injury, it is crucial to be prepared for a brownout. One preventative method to protect your devices before and after the brownout is to install power strips. Power strips protect your devices from currents that surge after the brownout.

Another alternative method is to get a whole-home surge protector installed that can detect any excess currents running through your home and divert them through a grounding path. And last but not least, take an annual electrical walk-through to ensure that your property and loved ones are safe. Finally, check your electrical wiring and systems around the house to avoid possible surges. 

Hence, it is essential for persons with disabilities to be prepared for emergencies due to power brownouts or outages. However, it can create anxiety, despair, and uncertainty for someone who relies on electricity to run their assistive devices or medical equipment. A power backup supply or a generator can be essential to run wheelchairs and life support machines.