In 2003, a major power outage occurred in the midwest and northeast United States affecting some 50 million people. The power outages affected multiple systems in state and local municipalities and, in turn, affected public health.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted using open-ended questionnaires, with a convenience sample of state- and locally selected subject matter experts from Ohio, Michigan, and New York. Respondents were interviewed in groups representing one of five areas of interest, including: (1) emergency preparedness; (2) hospital and emergency medical services; (3) municipal environmental systems; (4) public health surveillance and epidemiology; and (5) psychosocial and behavioral issues. The reported positive and negative impacts of the power outage on public health, medical services, and emergency preparedness and response were documented. Responses were categorized into common themes and recommendations were formulated.
The amount of time that the respondents' locations were without power ranged from <1 hour to 52 hours. Many common themes emerged from the different locations, including communications failures, alternate power source problems, manpower and training issues, and psychosocial concerns. There was minimal morbidity and mortality reported that could be attributed to the event.
Power outages negatively impacted multiple municipal infrastructures, and affected medical services, emergency response, and public health efforts. Previous federal funding positively impacted public health and emergency response capabilities. Recommendations were made based upon the common themes identified by the respondents.
Recommendations may assist state and local health departments, medical service providers, and emergency responders in planning for future power outage problems.