Oxygen generator equips Cabell for disaster

Published Thursday, December 5, 2013
by Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County has new equipment to provide oxygen to those in need during a disaster, such as the June 2012 derecho that knocked out electricity for days.

Cabell County Emergency Medical Services unveiled its medical oxygen generating system this week. It sits on trailer and can be transported across the county and throughout West Virginia, said Jerry Beckett, emergency planner for the agency.

"We're very excited," he said. "We hope we never have to use it, but we're much more prepared than we were for the derecho."

The $88,000 machine was purchased with grant funding from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Local officials chipped in approximately $5,000 to mount the generating system on a trailer for portable use.

Dr. Harry Tweel, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, called the generating system a very important acquisition for the area. The former pulmonologist said long-term electricity outages, such as the June 2012 wind storm, can leave patients without the vital oxygen supply they need.

"They may survive with extreme shortness of breath, but the risk of complications and irregular heart rhythms with dropping oxygen are very high, and even possibility of sudden death," he said.

Tweel and Beckett said many patients use electricity-powered, oxygen concentrators to take in ambient air, remove its nitrogen and provide pure oxygen for the patient. A power outage will render the concentrator useless and a portable tank provides only a couple hours of backup supply.

The county's generating system works much like a concentrator, Beckett said. It converts ambient air into 93 percent pure oxygen, which is stored into 12 massive tanks. That enables county officials to refill the patients' large and small tanks in a time of need.

Beckett stressed the generating system will not be available for day-to-day use, instead it will be stored for disasters. He said the mobility component will allow county officials to establish a central location in the area of specific need.

The June 2012 derecho knocked out electricity to some residents for more than a week. Beckett said the absence of a medical oxygen generating system led to patients inundating area hospitals and 911 dispatchers with requests for oxygen.

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