HHS emPower tool shows location of storms and people using electrically dependent medical equipment

HHS launches mapping tool to protect at-risk Medicare patients

For the sick or elderly who depend on electrically powered medical equipment, a power outage can be a life-threatening event. Emergency management officials trying to identify and plan for that population can now use the emPOWER Map. The web-based interactive tool, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, shows the number and location of Medicare patients with electricity-dependent oxygen concentrators, ventilators, wheelchairs and other devices.

First responders, community health agencies and emergency management officials can search by ZIP code, county, state and territory to see exactly how many of the 1.6 million nationwide users of the equipment reside in a given area.

The emPOWER tool combines information on  Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries with a real-time severe weather tracking service from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, allowing first responders to immediately see how many electrically-dependent medical devices there are in an area facing a dangerous storm that could cause a power outage.

When a location is searched, identified or clicked on, the NOAA weather alerts automatically appear.

No personal information about the electrically-dependent individuals is included on the map, and the location data is not granular enough for first responders to make rescues during a power outage.  But HHS said that simply knowing the number of at-risk medical device users can help local governments, first responders, hospitals and health officials in a community to craft better preparedness and readiness plans.  Emergency shelters can anticipate increased electricity demand, for example, officials can make plans for evacuation and transportation and electric utility companies can prioritize areas to for power restoration.

“With the rise in home-based care, real-time awareness of population-level needs, and the ability to respond to them, is critical,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response. “Better planning helps communities respond better and recover faster, and that’s where our emPOWER Map can provide the greatest benefit.”

The tool was developed by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.   As a web-based service, the emPOWER Map is accessible from any Internet-connected mobile device, but easy use demands a tablet or full-sized computer screen.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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