Hurricane Florence recently began pounding the coasts of North and South Carolina, mandating thousands of evacuations. The Weather Channel warns that the storm will bring several feet of storm surge water into the area, in addition to several more feet of rain, leading to flooding and extended power outages.

In addition to the damage and danger of these types of natural disasters often come avoidable carbon monoxide poisoning tragedies. The gas is odorless and colorless and can cause death or illness in just a few minutes. Each year, carbon monoxide poisoning results in more than 400 deaths in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with more than 20,000 people needing emergency room treatment, and more than 4,000 hospitalized.

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to follow these steps from the CDC:

  • Never use a generator or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement or garage, even if the doors or windows are open. Place these devices at least 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
  • When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.
  • Know the possible signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
  • If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, call 911 or your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or consult a health care professional right away.

Additionally, if you are looking to purchase a portable generator in case of an emergency, look for the UL Mark and choose the newest generation of these products. Newer generators with the UL Mark have two ways to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

“They use technology to both significantly reduce the amount of carbon monoxide that is produced, and they use sensors to shut the generator down if the concentration of carbon monoxide gets dangerous,” says Kenneth Boyce, P.E., Principal Engineer Director of the Energy and Power Technologies at UL. “Portable generators with the UL Mark all have that dual protection to protect people from carbon monoxide poisoning, but other products produce more – often much more – of that dangerous, odorless gas. Protect the people you care about by using portable generators with the UL Mark, and using them safely.”

Prepare today

No matter where you live, begin preparing today for an emergency. “Consumers and businesses need to have a plan, keep it up to date and execute it so they are ready when challenges happen,” Boyce points out. “Waiting until the last minute limits your options and introduces significantly more risk for you.”

Go to www.ready.gov to prepare for emergency events that can strike your region. The site will help you form an emergency plan for your family (including your family’s animals) and practice executing it – vital for keeping your loved ones safe in the face of a disaster.