Generator Safety 101
As we enter into hurricane season, many of us are aware of the dangers that these powerful storms can cause, but most people are unaware of the hidden dangers of portable generators. Portable generators are intended to offer convenience during outages, but should they be installed incorrectly, they can be fatal to you, the public and linemen restoring your electricity.
One significant way that generators pose a risk is through “backfeeding.” Backfeeding occurs when a generator is plugged directly into a home’s electrical panel or through a wall outlet instead of a regulated transfer switch. This practice is illegal in multiple states because it allows power to bypass the home’s built-in electrical safety features and “back-feed” into utility lines. Linemen working to restore power can be electrocuted when this happens. In this type of situation, the homeowner could be held responsible for injury and be criminally prosecuted.
To prevent backfeeding from occurring, generators must be installed correctly in one of two ways. The first is with a power transfer switch, which separates power from the utility and the whole home generator and only allows one source of power to the home. The transfer switch should always be installed by a qualified electrician. The second option is to plug in home appliances, not exceeding capacity, directly into the portable generator with heavy-duty extension cords.
Other hazards of using a portable generator include carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust and the possibility of fire, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA warns that most deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are caused by CO poisoning when generators are used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.
Portable generators are a viable option to keep your home or appliances functioning during an outage, just make sure that the generator is installed or used correctly to keep your family, the community and lineworkers safe.
Generator Safety: Lives on the Line
If you’re part of the estimated 12 percent of Americans who own a portable generator, you know it can be valuable if the power goes out. But did you know generators can be dangerous to those working to restore power?
Our line crews take all of the necessary precautions before beginning work on downed power lines, but a generator connected to a home’s wiring or plugged into a regular household outlet can cause backfeeding (electricity flowing back into the power lines and grid) along power lines and electrocute anyone who comes in contact with them—even if the line appears dead.
CAEC employees and other line workers are not the only ones in danger when a portable generator is used improperly. Generator owners themselves may be at risk of electrocution, fire injury, property damage or carbon monoxide poisoning if safety guidelines such as these are not followed:
- Never connect a generator directly to your home’s wiring unless the home has been wired for generator use. This can cause backfeeding along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with the generator. Have a licensed electrician install the equipment necessary to safely connect emergency generators.
- Always plug appliances directly into generators. Connecting the generator to a home’s circuits or wiring must be done by a qualified, licensed electrician who will install a transfer switch to prevent backfeeding.
- Use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords free of cuts or tears and be sure that the plug has three prongs. Overloaded cords can cause fires or equipment damage.
- Never overload a generator. A portable generator
should only be used when necessary to power essential equipment or appliances. Look at the labels on lighting, appliances and equipment to determine the amount of power needed to operate the equipment.
- Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
- Keep the generator dry on a dry surface under an open structure.
- Never fuel a generator while it is operating.
- Read and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation. Never cut corners when it comes to safety and always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
We encourage you to protect the well-being and safety of your family during outages, and safeguard those who come to your aid during power restoration.
Storm Tech Savvy
In our area, the month of April traditionally marks the beginning of the severe weather season with some of the most damaging storms and deadly tornadoes occurring during this time of year and running through the summer.
Today’s technology gives meteorologists a new set of forecasting tools which allows them to predict potentially severe weather hours prior to or even days before it arrives. And while this technology has brought us even more ways to be prepared for and monitor severe weather, it’s still vital to have a plan, which includes knowing what to do in case these technologies aren’t available due to damaged communication towers, extended power outages and several other factors.
The first step is having a disaster kit in the event you do not have access to food, water or electricity for a period of time. Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food and water supplies for two weeks, consider maintaining a stockpile that will last that long. Also include a first aid kit, a supply of medications, a spare set of car keys and a copy of important documents such as insurance policies.
In case of a power outage, flashlights and extra, preferably new, batteries are essential, but don’t forget a battery powered radio and a manual can opener. If you know bad weather is possible, charge and store portable chargers that can be used for cell phones and tablets. Portable chargers that operate with alkaline batteries are also available and would make a great addition to your disaster kit.
Today’s technology makes communication easier than ever before— with phone, text, social media and location apps to help keep in touch with others during and after a disaster. But as many have experienced during events such as the April 2011 tornado outbreak that struck our state, these avenues can sometimes fail or be unavailable for extended periods of time. For this very reason, make sure you designate a family meeting place for shelter during and after a storm and have a pre-determined contact to serve as a communication point for all family members—preferably someone not in your immediate area that would not be impacted by a storm.
It is also advisable to have a printed copy of important and emergency contact information in the event you do not have access to your phone, tablet or computer—which many of us rely on to store this information. It’s also a good practice to back-up your computer’s files onto an external drive and store it in a secure place or take advantage of cloud-based backup services for your data.
Don’t forget useful apps that are also available. Weather tracking apps can keep you informed of severe weather no matter the time of day. Other apps are there to help with your storm preparation, such as those by the American Red Cross which give you instant access to first aid information, maps to opened Red Cross shelters and much more.
Countless lives have been saved from dangerous weather through the use of technology, and just as it should be a part of your disaster preparedness plan, you should also have a back-up plan ready in case the technology we have come to rely on is not available.
Safety Tips for After the Storm
After a storm comes through, there are steps you should take to keep you and your family safe during a power outage.
- If you’re experiencing an outage, call CAEC’s outage hotline at 1-800-619-5460.
- Try to only use a flashlight for emergency lighting. Due to risk of fire, avoid candles if possible.
- Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out, but leave one light switched on so you know when power is restored.
- Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer during a power outage.
- If it is hot outside, take steps to remain cool. Move to the lowest level of your home, as cool air falls. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. If the heat is intense and the power may be off for a long time, consider going to a movie theater, shopping mall, or “cooling shelter” that may be opened in your community. Listen to local radio or television for more information.
- If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located and learn how to operate it. Sometimes garage doors can be heavy, so get help to lift it. If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
- Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
- Listen to local radio and television for updated information.
- NEVER go near a downed power line or electrical equipment. Call the local utility company and the police.
- Do not touch anything (including branches, or building material) that is touching a power line.
- If you see anyone who has come in contact with a power line, DO NOT touch the person. Any efforts to pull them away could make you the second victim. Call emergency services immediately.
- Do not drive around or “sight see” in storm damaged areas. Utility and emergency crews need to be able to come in and out. Also, the area may have downed power lines, gas leaks or other dangerous situations.
What to Do if the Lights Go Out
When severe weather causes power outages, employees of CAEC begin working immediately to restore service. Primary lines serving hundreds of customers are repaired first, and then the secondary lines serving just a few customers are restored.
When your lights go out, look outside and see if your neighbors are also in the dark. If they’re not, check your circuit breaker or fuse box or to see if you can locate the problem.
If the outage has affected you and your neighbors, call CAEC at 1-800-619-5460.
Outages that occur in severe weather, or that last for an extended period of time, can place a heavy burden on the system at the moment power is restored. To prevent an overload on the system and possibly another outage, take these steps:
- Turn your thermostat down or off.
- Minimize using hot water during the outage, this will prevent your electric water heater from turning on when power is restored.
- Make sure your kitchen range is off, both the surface and the oven.
- Avoid opening the freezer door. A full, freestanding freezer will keep food at freezing temperatures about two days; a half-full freezer about one day. For more information about food safety during and after a power outage, call the USDA Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-535-4555.
- If you see a downed power line, stay away and call CAEC at once.
- Leave your porch light on so workers will know when your power has been restored.
- When the power comes back on gradually return your thermostat to its normal setting.
What’s a Watch vs. a Warning?
During possible severe weather, you may see the words “watch” and “warning” used, but do you know the difference? Here’s a brief breakdown:
Watch: A watch means the potential exists for the development of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes or other severe weather events such as a hurricane in the area under the watch. When a watch is issued, you should continue your normal activities, but keep an eye and an ear out for further updates and possible warnings.
Warning: A warning on the other hand, means that severe thunderstorms, tornadoes or other severe weather events are occurring or is imminent based on Doppler radar information. You should move indoors to a place of safety and follow your storm safety plan.
Watches and warnings have no time-limit and should be taken seriously. Keeping a weather radio programmed for your area can help alert you of either event.
10 Things to Have Before the Storm Hits
Emergencies arrive unexpectedly, and when they do, everyone makes a mad rush to the store. Avoid this rush by gathering basic emergency and disaster supplies now.
Collect and store these 10 essential items to get ready for an emergency. For more preparedness tips for everything, from hurricanes to winter storms, visit the American Red Cross website.
- Can Opener
- First Aid kit
- Personal Care Items
- Important Documents
Storage Advice: Place your emergency supply kit in water proof bags. Store the bags in one or two emergency containers, such as plastic tubs, unused trash cans or duffel bags.
Store your kit where family members can locate it. Try to have enough food, liquid, batteries and other supplies to last one to four weeks depending on the emergency.