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For Medically Vulnerable, Winter Power Outages Across U.S. Increase Risk

Power and health are dependent on each other, especially when people rely on electrically powered medical devices. New analysis from Direct Relief and CrisisReady reveals where resources can be directed to those most at risk during winter storm outages.



(Shenyue Jia/Crisis Ready)

Winter storms throughout the central and eastern U.S. continued Friday to impact hundreds of thousands of people in several states. Power outages were reported for as many as 350,000 households. Areas of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Tennessee located along the storm path were most heavily affected.

The data science team at CrisisReady, a collaboration between Direct Relief and Harvard University School of Public Health, analyzed relationships between power outages and numbers of individuals in the Medicare program known to be users of electricity-dependent durable medical equipment (DME) to understand where medically vulnerable people might be most at risk due to winter power outages.

Areas with high rates of power outage correlated very closely with numbers of DME users, in part because the affected areas tended to be disproportionately rural and older. Direct Relief will be sharing this information with municipalities and emergency management personnel to inform local emergency responses.


(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

The state of Ohio experienced a continuous swathe of severe power outages throughout 20 counties across the south primarily along the border with West Virginia. In Hocking County, to the south of Columbus, over 55% of customers were without power as of Friday afternoon. The county has 451 electricity-dependent DME users, which accounts for 1.5% of the county’s population.

New York

(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

Power outages were still being experienced in counties to the north of New York City on Friday afternoon. Ulster County still showed nearly 50% of users without power, and 1,386 DME users, just under 1% of the total population.


(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

Counties just south of Pittsburgh were the areas hardest hit by power outages. Washington County on Friday still showed nearly 14% of households without power. Washington County has an exceptionally high number of DME users at 3,185 or 1.5% of the total population.

West Virginia

(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

The most impacted area of West Virginia was located along the northern border with Ohio, including 10 counties that contain both high numbers of customers without power and high numbers of DME users. Hancock County for instance contains 685 DME users, which amounts to roughly 2.5% of the total population. As of Friday afternoon, over 25% of households in Hancock were still without power.


(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

Counties surrounding the city of Memphis were especially hard hit by power outages. Fayette County to the east of Memphis still registered over 10% of households without power by Friday afternoon. Fayette is home to 327 DME users, just under 1% of the total population.


(Shenyue Jia/CrisisReady)

The most heavily affected areas of Texas lay to the northeast of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Hunt County still registered over 10% of households without power on Friday. Hunt County contains nearly 1000 DME users, over 1% of the total population.

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