Not much help for special needs Texans who need electricity to live - so what is next?

HOUSTON – We know a lot of you lost power during the February winter storm. But for many, it was a really dangerous time. For those who rely on machines to live, losing electricity can be an emergency situation. We found out, a tool that is supposed to help didn’t do much.

The Taylor family from Katy, like so many others in our community, lost power last month.

“Even though we thought we were prepared in an emergency, we quickly realized that because we were without power for 48 hours, that created a major problem,” said Lora Taylor. “We kind of went into overdrive prayed a lot.”

Lora’s daughter, Julie, relies on machines to keep her alive.

“We were charging devices in the car, and doing the best we could to keep her treatments going on an ongoing regimen,” said Lora.

The family frantically worked to keep the machines charged for Julie. Then, when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse - a pipe burst.

“The room was flooding and water was pouring, you know, through here, and it was we had a waterfall at the edge of our garage,” Lora said.

It was terrifying and messy but they did survive.

No power for 48+ hours

Lora wants to make sure that does not happen again -- both for her family and for many others in need.

“Truly, the largest number of deaths will most likely be from those who were somehow needing electricity to live,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R- District 18.

Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-District 18, is an outspoken advocate for equal rights for those with disabilities. She says what happened last month (in regards to the power outages) was a wake-up call.

“It is far past time that we make necessary changes for everyone,” Kolkhorst said.

Lora says Julie’s name is on a list called STEAR - State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry. That registry lets local government and electrical providers know if there is a critical power need at a home. But that’s not what happened.

Rachel Cohen-Miller is with the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas. She explains what went wrong and why the list did not do anything to help.

“Nobody knew that. The problem is it doesn’t do anything but everybody was led to believe this was going to save you,” Cohen-Miller explains. “The problem is, it has no teeth behind it. There’s nothing in the law that requires it, and there’s nothing that requires the cities or counties to do anything.”

“While the state gathered that information there wasn’t a good segway to our local governments,” said Senator Kolkhorst.

What about next time this happens?

So far there is no solid plan moving forward to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. In the past, the idea of getting generators for those with special needs was floated around. Senator Kolkhorst explains why that just wouldn’t work.

“I think after every natural disaster generators are definitely a discussion. I’m really interested in having a potential shelter that has a generator that can power up some of these machines. That might be a better solution instead of buying generators for every house,” she said.

“We need to make certain that those Texans who are most vulnerable are protected that there is a safety net because I think one of the things we saw is there, there is no safety net, you are on your own in an emergency and that cannot continue,” said Lora.

“We have to make these changes and I just want everyone listening to know - it starts with a reliable grid,” Senator Kolkhorst said.

The grid is just one of the many topics up for debate in Austin right now. There are more than 75 bills related to electricity filed and up for discussion… including one from Senator Kolkhorst related to electric rate charges. You can see all of those bills here. We are tracking all of the developments in Austin, including bills that are being discussed.


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