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We hardly need a reminder that hurricane season is upon is–Hurricane Irene has come and gone, leaving her mark up and down the east coast; Hurricane Katia is traveling across the Atlantic; and a tropical storm is brewing in the Gulf. But as those of us in hurricane-prone areas prepare for more storms, it is a good time to be reminded of one safety issued related to hurricanes: the use of portable generators.

As Irene made its way up the coastline last weekend, nearly 8 million homes and business lost electricity. At least in those communities that are accustomed to experiencing hurricane season, many families turn to portable generators to power their homes until services are restored. If you’re among them and might find yourself relying on a generator at some point over the next few months, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Most importantly, never operate a generator inside your home. This includes garages, crawlspaces, sheds, and similar areas. Opening doors and windows and using fans does not make it okay to use the generator inside these spaces.

Portable generators produce carbon monoxide, an invisible and odorless gas that can literally kill within minutes. Operating a generator inside the home is like running hundreds of cars in your home. A number of carbon monoxide incidents—including some deaths—have been reported in the wake of Irene. Always use your generator outside and far away from windows, doors and vents.

In addition:

  • Read the operator’s manual that came with your generator and follow the instructions provided.
  • Install battery-operated CO (carbon monoxide) alarms in your home and test the batteries every month to ensure that they are charged.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately. Carbon monoxide is a fast and silent killer and it is important to respond to symptoms without delay.

Aside from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, there are also electrical and fire hazards to be aware of when using a generator. To guard against these hazards:

  • Keep your generator away from moisture; operating it under a canopy-like structure
  • Connect appliances to the generator using heavy-duty extension cords intended for outdoor use. Make sure the wattage rating on the cord is appropriate for the number and type of appliances connected to it.
  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet, known as “backfeeding”
  • Never store generator fuel in your home. Gasoline, propane, kerosene and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas.
  • Before refueling a generator, turn it off and let it cool down completely.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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