Hurricane season amid COVID-19: Be informed, Be prepared, and be safe

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WASHINGTON, USA – June 1 marks the start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, and forecasters say it will be an above-normal storm season. That’s news none of us ever wants to hear, but especially during this COVID-19 environment. “Powerful storms and hurricanes are likely to affect millions of Americans who are already dealing with the stress that comes with a pandemic,” said CPSC acting chairman Robert Adler. “That is why we urge everyone now more than ever, to be informed, be prepared and be safe,” he added.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that you may need to adjust any preparedness actions, based on the latest health and safety guidelines from the CDC and your local officials.

In case of evacuation

If you must evacuate, the CDC is recommending you have additional items on hand, such as cloth face coverings, hand sanitizer, and cleaning products to help prevent the spread of viruses at the shelter. CPSC is reminding consumers to keep all cleaning products and medications out of reach from children, and keep them in their original child-resistant containers at your evacuation site.

Before the Storm

Consumers need to be especially careful during a loss of electrical power, as many use portable generators and other sources for power and heat, exposing them to increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fire. If you plan to use a portable generator in the case of power loss, follow these tips before the storm to prepare:

  • Make sure CO and smoke alarms in your home are working properly, by pressing the test button and replacing batteries, if needed.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home, outside separate sleeping areas, and on each floor of your home.
  • Check that your generator has had proper maintenance, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and the owner’s manual.

Poisonous carbon monoxide from a portable generator can kill you and your family in minutes. CO is an invisible killer. It’s colorless and odorless. According to the CDC, more than 400 people die each year in the United States from CO poisoning. CPSC estimates about 70 consumers die each year from CO poisoning caused by portable generators.

After the Storm

The storm has hit, and the power is out. Now what? Follow these life saving tips:

  • Operate portable generators outside only, at least 20 feet away from the house, and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter.
  • Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace, shed, or on the porch. Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.
  • Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm when it sounds. Get outside immediately. Then call 911.
  • CO poisoning from portable generators can happen so quickly that exposed persons may become unconscious before recognizing the symptoms of nausea, dizziness, or weakness.

Other product safety hazards during hurricane season include:

Charcoal danger

Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Do not cook on a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the door open.

Candles

Use caution when burning candles. Use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when you leave the room and before sleeping.

Wet appliances

Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Discard unplugged electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards. Do not touch electrical or gas appliances that are still plugged in.

Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been underwater.

Gas leaks: If you smell it – report it

If you smell or hear gas, do not turn lights on or off, or use electrical equipment, including a phone. Leave your home and contact local gas authorities from outside.

Remember, it only takes one storm to wreak havoc causing mass destruction and loss of life. Be informed, be prepared and be safe.

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