AUSTIN (KXAN) — For everyday residents, this week’s power outages spelled discomfort and inconvenience as temperatures hovered below freezing and ice accumulated outside. But for residents who are medically vulnerable and reliant on equipment to keep them safe, these outages could be deadly.
Earlier this week, KXAN reported on statewide and local registries for people with medical conditions that require specific devices. Those registries keep track of these customers in the event of outages.
Here locally, Austin Energy maintains a list of residential utility customers with a long-term disease, ailment or critical illness. Those eligible for the program receive more time to pay their bills as well as special attention from city staff and partnering social service agencies, particularly during disasters.
That attention includes going through an emergency plan, including backup power sources, establishing emergency contacts and finding backup locations they can safely relocate to.
On Thursday, an AE spokesperson confirmed these registry members aren’t classified as part of the utility provider’s “critical infrastructure.” AE’s critical infrastructure flags portions of the city with hospitals, medical centers and other integral facilities where power maintenance is vital.
Because registry members are spread out throughout Austin, an AE spokesperson said the agency is unable to deem them “critical infrastructure.” Instead, the spokesperson said crews connect with those customers before and during storms and disasters to check on their status and whether they need to implement a Plan B.
“We want to know where they are, so we can call and check in on them,” the spokesperson said, adding they called all of them during the storm Wednesday.
When two registry members didn’t return calls, AE deployed crews to their homes to do a wellness check. Both were found safe and okay.
Approximately 375 people are registered through AE’s medically vulnerable system. If extensive outages occur and registry members are in a serious situation, they are asked to call 911 to avoid a medical emergency.