Helping to get deep cycle batteries, chargers, etc to disabled couple on 12th floor of dark Manhattan apartment building, to run survival necessities

Rob writes,

My childhood friend and dedicated humanitarian, Crystal, is helping coordinate an effort to source deep cycle batteries, chargers, inverters, and other supplies to meet the urgent needs of a disabled couple, Nick and Alejandra, living on the 12th floor of a Lower Manhattan apartment building that's without power. Nick is on a series of electronic medical devices, including a ventilator, necessary for his survival. The committed group of folks involved in meeting their needs in this emergency continue to need financial help and also in-person assistance of those within driving range of Manhattan. Portlight Strategies, Inc. is coordinating donations.

UnconVENTional Aid: Helping Nick Dupree, Social Networking Style (Thanks, Rob!)


  1. The scary thought here is that the health care providers deem it OK to send someone home with life-critical electrical equipment and let them live in a place with no backup electrical facilities such as a generator with a week of fuel, ready to go.

    Our society’s faith in the electric grid is absolute.

    1. People generally want to live at home, and not every place can store a week of fuel. For most apartment buildings it would be a serious risk. EDIT (boo on me for not reading the article through, I missed that the generator was on the other side of the street): And he has a backup system… the batteries are being charged, but at street level… 12 flight of stairs downstairs.

      Of course we could always store all disabled people safely tucked away in institutions, like in the good old days.

      1. They *don’t* have a generator on-site. They are able to get the ventilator batteries charged thanks to folks who are hauling the battery/charger systems on a rotating basis *up and down 12 flights of stairs in the dark, and across the street* to a FDNY Ladder Co that has a generator and has granted them access to a connected power strip. Without the kindness of the fire department (Thank You, FDNY!!!), they’d likely be unable to keep the ventilator batteries charged through the makeshift charging system that’s been assembled to run the rest of the medical equipment and emergency lighting.

        At present, a committed volunteer group is keeping batteries/chargers/etc… rotated and meeting the basic needs of Nick and Alejandra. However, significant financial help is needed for additional deep cycle batteries (and other supplies) so that the situation doesn’t continue to teeter on the brink (ie, presently if one or more of the volunteers can’t make it to the location on time, things could go from bad to much worse). If anyone that’s reading this can afford to donate through the link in the post, your financial support will help relieve this pressure, and thanks to Portlight Strategies, Inc., any extra funds received will be directed to meet the needs of many others in similar situations. Thank you!

    2. Back up systems fail as we saw with major hospitals in NY that had to evacuate patients and infants in the NICU. One could argue that he is just as safe at home as he would be in a hospital. No one can be fully prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude. If you think you are, you have fooled yourself. I am so thankful to everyone who is giving of themselves to help, instead of being so judgmental. Perhaps nixiebunny would have a different point of view if they knew Nick has been on a ventilator since 1993. Certainly you would never state that he should live his entire life in a medical facility when he is able to enjoy life with medical care at his home. My family also has the underlying medical condition that caused Nick to be on a ventilator in the first place. Thankfully we are not in his position but to me the real scary thought is that a “healthy” persons life and choices are not questioned. Yet someone who is disabled is treated less than a citizen for wanting to live at home. I thank God for Crystal, Karin, Gisela, Sandi and the countless others that are being angels in the midst of this chaos. 

        1.  he couldn’t be moved in his condition though. the stairs were 12 flights of narrow, steep stairs, and hospital vents differ from home vents. last time he was in the hospital, the vent they used blew his stoma. he was safest at home.

  2. A simple hack that may help. 

    There are issues with keeping mobile phones charged; a car phone charger, the kind that plugs into the lighter socket and has one or two USB outputs, hacked to connect to a deep-cycle battery, could do a great job. (They are usually built around a buck converter, often around a MC34063 or equivalent chip. These can run from both 12 and 24 volt batteries and anything in between.) This may alleviate the issue with keeping Aleja’s phone running. Somebody there please do it, it’s just a pair of wires and clamps attached to an off-the-shelf component.
    Now some thoughts about keeping a power supply with enough juice for several days… (How much power in watts does the ventilator need so I can run the numbers?)

    A long-time power supply can be realized by several means. A generator is the obvious one; a small camping-style model may be sufficient, though the annoyances related to it may make it a second choice. A large battery, e.g. a decommissioned one from a forklift or a boat, has couple 100s amp-hours and could provide juice for couple days.

    Two further approaches that could provide some energy in a storable form are a magnesium- or aluminium-based reserve battery, and a zinc-air fuel cell. 

    The reserve battery is an electrolyte-less cell, with electrodes capable of reacting with salt water and producing electricity. Said salt water is added when the battery is needed; until then the battery is dry and there is virtually no aging and no self-discharge. These batteries are used in e.g. some military hardware, e.g. airdropped sonar buoys or emergency beacons, activated by being dropped into sea.

    The zinc-air fuel cell is more suitable for situations where the blackouts are more common (though there will be likely a generator there already). These are being experimented with as a power supply for electric vehicles.

  3. @Thomas S. : They’re using car and marine batteries right now, since without power, there’s no elevator to the 12th floor. Larger batteries would be too heavy for volunteers to be able to tote without risk to the volunteers and the batteries. Once power is back, it will likely be worth considering a longer term solution involving the larger format batteries you’ve mentioned in some sort of UPS configuration.

    Based on their present set-up, they’ve determined the acceptable run-times and have coordinated a schedule of volunteers to drive the spent batteries elsewhere for charging and then bring them back and swap them out… it’s a lot of humanpower, but it’s keeping things going. Having additional deep cycle batteries would allow for schedule flexibility and accommodate any potential delays if, say, volunteers vehicles were to run out of gas or if volunteers were turned away from the streets leading to the location.

    Keep thinking about a long-term battery backup solution though… it would be good to get one in place in case power is lost again as the city comes back to life.

    1. Rough thought… can they get a winch and a pulley and get the batteries lowered/raised on a rope from a window? May (or may not?) be easier than carrying them on the stairs.

      Another thought… would a suitably long cable be connected to the fire dept’s generator? I assume the power draw of the equipment is low enough to not make the resistance of the wires a deal-breaker. Home Depot stores (Google Maps say there are some even on Manhattan itself) have 100-ft extension cords, and according to the Google Street View the FDNY branch is really right across the road; one or at most two of 100ft cords should be sufficient to cross the distance. If led to the top floor window of the FDNY building, it would not significantly obstruct the street so even taller cars could still pass unobstructed. As the weight of the cable may be a problem, it can be alleviated by tying it to a rope that will carry the mechanical load. If two cords have to be connected together, the junction has to be water-proofed (I’d suggest silicone caulk and then layer of plastic foil). 

      1. Let’s do some assumptions and some number-throwing. Let’s assume two 100-ft cords in series, which is 200 feet of cable, 400 ft roundtrip. 

        The extension cords come in 16, 14, and 10 gauge versions, with correspondingly increasing cost.

        According to this table ( ), 16-ga wire has resistance of 4 ohms/1000 ft; 400 ft is therefore 1.6 ohm. At (say) 230 watts of power consumption (two amps, for easier calculations), the voltage drop is 3.2 volts – 115 volts down to 112, way within the tolerance; the cable heating is 6.4 watts, which is fairly negligible. Unless my numbers are wrong (if so, where?), it should work even with the relatively inexpensive cable; after all, we don’t talk about feeding an arc welding machine.

        For twice the load (460 watts, 4 amps), the drop is 6.4V and the power loss is 25.6W, which is a bit worse. At this load a 14-ga cable will lose 4V/16W, an expensive 10-ga one will lose 1.6V/6.4W.

        Just some ballpark figures that may or may not be useful.

  4. You could always move the person and not the batteries.  That’s sort of what you do when your habitat isn’t habitable. It’s not like the hurricane arrived without warning, and that evacuation orders weren’t given.

        1. There are those things… I think they are called elevators. They have certain problems when there is no power.

          When moving the person is more risky than moving the batteries, for example because of being tied to lots of life support equipment, move the batteries.

      1. How many watts of electric power does the life support equipment need? (So I don’t talk crap and can calculate things instead of just guessing?)

  5. Can the fire department’s generator power the elevators if you had an electrician or someone else similarly qualified to do it and the cable/wiring too?

  6. This post was on Alejandra’s page, just to be sure someone saw it in case he can still help.  Has the type of battery needed apparently, send msg thru his Facebook page if his help is still needed:
    Kyle Parkin says : Alejandra, I
    read your story online. Our company goal zero ( ) has a
    semi truck in New York with portable power that we have donated to help
    people in need. Please contact us if Nick still needs some deep cycle
    batteries.  Here is a story our local news did on us.

  7. Hi, this is Nick.  You can follow me on Twitter @NickDupree which focuses on my comics (I love creating sequential art) and also the policies that effect people with disabilities. 

    All federal, state and local policies insist I go to the hospital. But that is the most dangerous place for me.  Hospitals’ normal assessment and care processes have been stricken with liability sclerosis: liability first, human life second. Hospital policy is they only allow hospital ventilators. Because of liability fears surrounding hospital staff operating ventilators they’ve never been trained on and the hospital does not own, the policy is non-negotiable: I’d be taken off my vent, put on a hospital vent. This almost destroyed my stoma in ‘08. I’d be toast if that happened again. So I don’t see evacuation to a hospital as an option. I wish there was a hospital I could trust to “first, do no harm,” but right now I just trust them to a) put me on a ventilator that will maim or kill me b) not have enough staff to feed or medicate me, because they have genuine emergencies on their hands. I am from Mobile, Alabama and was there until 2008; I tried to go to USA Children’s hospital when Hurricanes Georges and Opal hit the Gulf Coast and no beds or medicine were forthcoming (plus, the hospital lost *their electricity* stranding us in our wheelchairs staring at dead elevator doors for hours during Opal) which forced us to un-evacuate, go back home . Rode out Danny, Ivan, Katrina and more on batteries. I’ve been there, and some EMS guy I’ve never met yelling I need to be with TRAINED PROFESSIONALS (as my RN is standing next to me—lol) isn’t impressing me. Education on vent-dependent people is badly needed.

    We are condemned as “against medical advice” for not evacuating to hospitals that were evacuated or in danger of evacuating. The story of NYU’s generator failing and all the NICU babies have to be taken off failed ventilators and bagged is horrifying, as are the stories of Bellevue, NYU Downtown evacuating. In Soviet ‘merica, hospital evacuate you. But all these horrible stories are unlikely to spark the change needed. If medical advice is to put yourself in those horror situations, I don’t mind being against it.

  8. I am so grateful for the outpouring of car batteries to keep my ventilator and other equipment going and keep me out of the aforementioned hospital horror stories. Here’s our NPR interview:

    Reportedly the area near the offending ConEd station on 14th St (whose failure triggered the cascade of outages across Lower Manhattan) now has electricity again. Hopefully if much of the Lower East Side’s power has been restored, our power here on the “Lower West Side” will soon follow. As of now, no power here.

    1. No need to google, Wikipedia to the rescue!

      While in some ways it’d be optimal, the drawbacks are rather significant. Some isotopes have too short halflife (polonium), some are virtually unobtainable in sufficient quantities (plutonium-238), the others are rather unpleasant to be around and require shielding (strontium-90). Then there are the issues of radiation phobia and terrornoia in the current society and both the people and the “elected” officials would break in hives at mere thought of a private citizen sitting on a kilogram of radioisotope.
      That said, a small RTG or a compact nuclear reactor (e.g. the TOPAZ design that Russians used to power their radar satellites) would be a perfect power supply.

      What would also help would be strengthening the power grid and making it more redundant. However, spare capacities are frowned upon by The Managers, as they do not generate revenue and just eat the maintenance and capital costs; so the grid will be more and more flaky until, by some miracle, it will be liberated from the oppressive yoke of profit-making.

  9. Aaaaaaaaand… their power is now back! (For couple hours already, comm still sucks hence the delay.)

  10. An update:

    Those who don’t understand, won’t understand the logistical intricacies and choices, why we did what we did to keep Nick safe in our home, why we HAD to do things this way.  Many didn’t understand, but helped anyway.  And we’ll do whatever we can to pay it forward.

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