Power Outages and Community Health: a Narrative Review

Curr Environ Health Rep. 2020 Dec;7(4):371-383. doi: 10.1007/s40572-020-00295-0. Epub 2020 Nov 11.


Purpose of review: Power outages, a common and underappreciated consequence of natural disasters, are increasing in number and severity due to climate change and aging electricity grids. This narrative review synthesizes the literature on power outages and health in communities.

Recent findings: We searched Google Scholar and PubMed for English language studies with titles or abstracts containing "power outage" or "blackout." We limited papers to those that explicitly mentioned power outages or blackouts as the exposure of interest for health outcomes among individuals living in the community. We also used the reference list of these studies to identify additional studies. The final sample included 50 articles published between 2004 and 2020, with 17 (34%) appearing between 2016 and 2020. Exposure assessment remains basic and inconsistent, with 43 (86%) of studies evaluating single, large-scale power outages. Few studies used spatial and temporal control groups to assess changes in health outcomes attributable to power outages. Recent research linked data from electricity providers on power outages in space and time and included factors such as number of customers affected and duration to estimate exposure. The existing literature suggests that power outages have important health consequences ranging from carbon monoxide poisoning, temperature-related illness, gastrointestinal illness, and mortality to all-cause, cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal disease hospitalizations, especially for individuals relying on electricity-dependent medical equipment. Nonetheless the studies are limited, and more work is needed to better define and capture the relevant exposures and outcomes. Studies should consider modifying factors such as socioeconomic and other vulnerabilities as well as how community resiliency can minimize the adverse impacts of widespread major power outages.

Keywords: Blackout; Carbon monoxide poisoning; Durable medical equipment; Energy insecurity; Natural disasters; Power outage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electric Power Supplies / adverse effects
  • Electric Power Supplies / statistics & numerical data
  • Electric Power Supplies / supply & distribution*
  • Electric Power Supplies / trends
  • Electricity
  • Humans
  • Natural Disasters
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors