Lights out and somebody’s home? Stay safe!

The weather forecast is calling for two storms, one tonight (10/13) and then possibly a whopper of a storm on Saturday (10/15). That means fallen trees and branches will likely cause power outages in our area.

Power outages can create health hazards–some of them even life-threatening! Follow our tips to stay safe.

What should I do when you see damaged or downed power lines in your neighborhood?

  • Don’t get near any fallen or sagging power line!
  • Call the utility company about the line.

What if you depend on electricity for medical equipment at home?

  • If you rely on electricity for wheelchairs or other medical devices, charge up or store extra batteries if possible.
  • Consider purchasing a back-up power supply such as a generator or going to a health care facility that has back-up power.
  • If you depend on home oxygen, work with your regular provider (such as a home care company or medical gas company) on a personal preparedness plan. Personal preparedness strategies could include things like stocking up on extra cylinders ahead of a storm, or obtaining a backup power source for oxygen concentrators.
  • If you lose access to home oxygen and this creates a medical emergency, call 911 or visit an emergency department.
  • People who use life support equipment should register with the local utility. When they do this, the utility will make them a top priority for power supply repair and restoration.

How should I use a power generator?

  • For your safety, always follow the manufacturer’s instruction on the use of power generators.
  • Since most generators are powered by gasoline and can generate carbon monoxide gas, run them outdoors where the fumes will not cause illness.
  • Power generators should never be plugged into your home’s main electrical panel as this may result in serious injury or death to utility personnel working to restore power. Instead, plug the generator directly into the appliance you wish to use during the outage.

Is food in the fridge safe to eat if the power goes out?spoiled-food

Don’t make yourself miserable by eating spoiled food. If your power goes out:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold air inside.
  • If you have a food thermometer, throw away any food in the refrigerator or freezer is warmer than 45° F. If you don’t have a thermometer, throw out any food that has not been in a working refrigerator for more than four hours. Foods that remain frozen are not a risk.
  • Either eat or freeze leftover foods right away, particularly meats, seafood, dairy products, cooked potatoes and rice.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.Never taste suspicious food. It may look and smell fine, but the bacteria that cause foodborne illness may have grown on the food and will make you sick.

My power has been out for a while and my home is too cold. What are my options?

In a severe emergency or disaster, expect electric power to be out for several days. If that happens, consider relocating to a shelter or to a friend’s home where heat and power are available.

And one more SUPER important warning:

Never use charcoal, gas, or propane heaters indoors. Odorless, invisible fumes from charcoal, gas, and propane can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Using these heaters indoors can also increase the risk of fire.

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.