In August 2017 Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, leaving unprecedented destruction in its path. The natural disaster was closely followed by Hurricane Irma slamming Florida, leaving the state in ruins. Several elderly people were forced to leave their homes behind, their medical alert systems still in them. But when the aging residents were allowed to return, they had discovered that the personal emergency response device had been disconnected during the catastrophe. This raises the question: can a medical alert system truly protect you during a large-scale disaster?
The Reliability of Medical Alert Systems
Unexpected emergencies happen all the time, and hardware manufacturers know that the user’s life depends on whether or not the product is fail-proof. Over time, medical alarm systems have been constantly upgraded with new features to ward off environmental hazards.
The help button is waterproof so that seniors can bring it into the shower or the pool. The base station houses backup batteries, ensuring the unit remains functional during a power outage. Not to mention the fact that there are advanced hub stations available, too, that support landline, Ethernet and cellular connections all at the same time, meaning that there is more than one option to call the monitoring agents. But can this still protect from hurricanes?
Hurricanes Aren’t a Good Match for Anything
It seems that state-wide disasters, such as hurricanes, go beyond the current capabilities of a medical alert system. The products are designed to help survive local situations, like a storm. If a fallen tree breaks a power cable in the neighborhood, the standard 36-48 hour backup battery time is more than enough to keep the device operational until the response team arrives. Also, storms or minor earthquakes aren’t typically dangerous enough to affect the cellular and the landline connection at the same time.
But none of this is true for hurricanes. As seen in Florida, Spectrum medical alert devices remained disconnected from the service for days, despite most of their customers having running electricity. Spectrum’s spokesperson Joseph Durkin explained that their company relies heavily on commercial power, with their service network differentiating from the electric grid, meaning that just because power was restored to residential housing the same wasn’t the case for the company.
In the end, Spectrum managed to restore service to all of its customers. Other companies, like Bay Alarm Medical, weren’t affected as harshly, but they went out their way to donate to relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Stay Ahead of a Disaster
In defense of these medical alert systems, there are very few commercial services capable of remaining operational during a hurricane. Although we wholeheartedly support the idea of aging in place, there are times when seniors should not be left alone. A medical alert system could be a good last resort, but it relies heavily on a lot of subtle factors.
Electricity and cellular reception are just some examples of these necessities, but the service might be also interrupted with a change in the state’s dialing system. In addition to all of this, emergency responders have their hands full evacuating citizens during a crisis, which means that they often arrive considerably later to solve issues like commercial power. All in all, a medical alert system is more than reliable during storms, but when a hurricane approaches, seniors should seek aid from others instead of staying alone at home.