Protecting Health During Outages
Severe weather can cause great physical damage and it also often creates health risks due to a loss of power and other necessities.
Every fall and winter, windstorms cause extensive damage, including the loss of electricity throughout the Pacific Northwest. By taking action now, you can save lives and reduce the damage caused by windstorms and other weather-related hazards.
What to do before a windstorm
- Contact your local emergency management office or the National Weather Service to find out what types of storms are most likely to occur in your community.
- Assemble a disaster supply kit.
- If you have a home generator, make sure you know how to use it safely. Follow all instructions and contact the vendor, if necessary. Improper use of a generator can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Find out who in your area might need special assistance, such as the elderly, disabled, and non-English speaking neighbors.
- Check with your veterinarian for animal care instructions in an emergency situation.
- If you live on a coastal or inland shoreline, be familiar with evacuation routes.
- Know what emergency plans are in place at your workplace, school and daycare center.
- Conduct a home safety evaluation to find out which nearby trees could fall in windstorm.
- If you have an electric garage door opener, locate the manual override.
What to do during a windstorm
- Don’t panic. Take quick action to protect yourself and help others.
- Turn off the stove if you’re cooking when the power goes out, and turn off natural gas appliances.
- Never use a gas stove for heat.
- Never burn charcoal indoors.
- Never us a generator indoors or in a garage or carport.
- If you are indoors, move away from windows or objects that could fall. Go to lower floors in multi-story homes.
- If you are outdoors, move into a building. Avoid downed electric power lines, utility poles and trees.
- If you are driving, pull off the road and stop away from trees. If possible, walk into a safe building. Avoid overpasses, power lines and other hazards.
- Listen to your radio for emergency instructions.
What to do after a windstorm
- Check yourself and those around you for injuries.
- Evacuate damaged buildings. Do not re-enter until declared safe by authorities.
- Call 9-1-1 only to report a life threatening emergency.
- If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound indoors — open windows and leave the building. Turn off the gas source and call your gas company. Do not use matches, candles, open flames or electric switches indoors.
- If the power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep food frozen for up to two days.
- Provide assistance to your neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled.
- Try to make contact with your out-of-area phone contact, but avoid making local telephone calls.
- Monitor your portable or weather radio for instructions or an official "all clear" notice. Radio stations will broadcast what to do, the location of emergency shelters, medical aid stations, and the extent of damage.
Power outages can cause a number of safety concerns; knowing the following information can help.
Before a power outage
- Register life-sustaining and medical equipment with your utility company.
- Consider buying a generator. When installing a generator, follow the instructions carefully. Keep your generator outside and run a cord inside. Don't connect your generator to main service panels—it's dangerous! Be sure to place a carbon monoxide detector indoors.
- Make sure your disaster preparedness kit contains light sticks, flashlights, a battery-powered radio with extra batteries and a wind-up clock.
- Have a corded telephone available — cordless phones will not work when the power is out.
- Have a safe alternative heat source and supply of fuel. Never burn charcoal or use a generator indoors.
- If you own an electric garage door opener, know how to open the door without power.
During a power outage
- Turn off lights and electrical appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer.
- Even if it is dark, turn light switches and buttons on lamps or appliances to the “off” position.
- Unplug computers and other sensitive equipment to protect them from possible surges when the power is restored.
- Leave one lamp on so you will know when power is restored. Wait at least 15 minutes after power is restored before turning on other appliances.
- Conserve water, especially if you use well water.
- Never use gas ovens, gas ranges, barbecues or portable or propane heaters for indoor heating—they use oxygen and create carbon monoxide that can cause suffocation.
- Candles can cause a fire. It's far better to use battery-operated flashlights or glow sticks for lighting.
- Using a kerosene heater, gas lantern or stove inside the house can be dangerous. Maintain proper ventilation at all times to avoid a build up of toxic fumes, and be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector.
- Stay away from downed power lines and sagging trees with broken limbs.
Keep food safe
- Use and store food carefully to prevent foodborne illness when power outages make refrigeration unavailable.
- Use foods first that can spoil most rapidly.
- Keep doors to refrigerators and freezers closed. Your refrigerator's freezer will keep food frozen for up to a day. A separate fully-loaded freezer will keep food frozen for two days.
- Use an ice chest packed with ice or snow to keep food cold. Buy dry ice to save frozen food. Do not handle dry ice with your bare hands. Use blocks or bags of ice to save refrigerator foods.
- Use caution if storing food outside during winter to keep it cold. The outside temperature varies, especially in the sun. Frozen food may thaw and refrigerator food may become warm enough to grow bacteria. Food stored outside must be secured from contamination by animals.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Throw out meat, seafood, dairy products and cooked food that does not feel cold.
- Never taste suspect food. Even if food looks and smells fine, illness-causing bacteria may be present.