Hurricane Ian intensified on Wednesday, wiping out power for tens of thousands of people in Florida and the entire island of Cuba. For those switching on backup generators or considering other at-home sources of power, here are tips for safe usage.
Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home. Carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless, is produced by appliances that burn gas, oil, kerosene, wood or wood products. Early symptoms of poisoning include headache, weakness, dizziness and nausea, but it can go undetected if you’re asleep.
Carbon monoxide detectors can prevent carbon monoxide exposure, which, when prolonged, can cause brain damage or death. More than 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with some fatalities having occurred during incidents of severe weather, when people use improvised sources of power. The C.D.C. recommends checking batteries on your devices each spring and fall.
Use a generator only outdoors, more than 20 feet away from your home. Never use a generator, gasoline-powered engine, camp stove or charcoal-burning device in a confined or semi-confined space, such as your home, basement or garage, health experts say. Keep in mind that opening doors and windows, and using fans, will not prevent carbon monoxide from building up when a generator is an enclosed space, according to the Florida Department of Health. Keep the generator dry, such as with a tarp held up on poles, and do not use it in rain or wet conditions, according to the Red Cross.
Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges or spikes when power returns, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Keep refrigerators and freezers closed — refrigerators will keep food cold for about four hours, and freezers will keep food cold for about 48 hours. If power is out for more than a day, throw out any medication that requires refrigeration, the agency said.