KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dirk Mason jolted awake Tuesday morning, gasping for air when his BiPAP machine stopped working.
"I pulled my mask off and tried to gasp for a breath of air, and I was like, 'What is going on?'" Mason, of Shawnee, said.
The device helps with his heart condition and sleep apnea. The condition causes him to stop breathing nearly 100 times an hour.
Mason was one of several Kansas City metro residents affected by rolling power outages – a response to the frigid temperatures across the country. But those outages are serving as a reminder to sign up for Evergy's life-support program for people who rely on medical equipment to breathe at night.
The program includes customers with a critical need for power. Spokesperson Gina Penzig said the company has a team that was proactively calling those customers.
"Customers who have medical equipment that requires electricity are encouraged to have power back up or another plan in place in case of outages," Penzig said.
Mason said he does not have backup power for the machine. He assumed his apartment complex would have a backup generator.
He also wasn't aware that he needed to let Evergy know about his critical need for power, but he said he will be calling about it. Still, he wishes he would have had some sort of notice.
"I can understand if it's a power outage, but just a brown out just to conserve power, you need to show a little more concern to the public," Mason said. "I mean, we pay you on time, and we deserve that communication."
Evergy leaders said the company isn't able to send advance notices to customers about the rolling outages because it only has minutes to start turning off power once it receives the notice from the Southwest Power Pool.
Kansas City, Missouri, resident Courtney Hall, who uses a CPAP machine, had a similar start to her day. She woke up gasping for air around 1:15 a.m. Tuesday.
"It wakes you up, and it's like you're being smothered," Hall said.
Hall said she's tried to get on Evergy's life support program for several months now but hasn't heard back from the company. She's frustrated with the outages happening at night when customers not on the program might be using critical devices.
"I understand if they have to do it, just don't do it at nighttime where people such as myself rely on a CPAP or some kind of assisted device at nighttime," Hall said.
Chuck Caisley, chief customer officer for Evergy, said people who need to be on the program can sign up on Evergy's website or call in. However, keep in mind representatives are stretched thin right now.