Guest editorial: Stay safe and warm during winter storms

By on January 20, 2012

by Kyla Kruse
Energy Education Council

Extreme winter winds, unpredictable amounts of snow and rain, and fluctuating temperatures can result in severe freezing rain, sleet and ice storms. Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down utility poles, trees and limbs—potentially resulting in power outages and property damage. In addition to shutting down power, snow and ice can make transportation dangerous, if not impossible.

All these factors make it difficult to cope with a winter storm once it hits, so preparation is essential. To prepare, the Energy Education Council’s Safe Electricity program recommends that you have the following items on hand before a storm hits:

• Flashlights with fresh batteries
• Matches for lighting candles and gas stoves or clean burning heaters
• Wood for a properly ventilated fireplace
• Prescription medicines and baby supplies
• Food that can be kept in coolers and a manual can opener
• A non-cordless telephone and/or fully charged cellular phone
• Bottled drinking water
• Battery-powered emergency lights and radio
• A home generator can also be helpful as long as you are familiar with safe operating procedures

“To be truly prepared, you need more than supplies. You need to know what to do when a storm strikes,” advised Molly Hall, executive director of the Safe Electricity program. “Winter storms can cause severe damage to power lines, which creates safety risks. After a storm, avoid going outside if possible.”

Downed power lines could be submerged in snow and ice, making them difficult to identify. When outside, treat all downed and hanging lines as if they are energized. Stay away, warn others to stay away, and immediately contact your utility company. Remember that downed power lines do not have to be arcing, sparking, or moving to be “live”—and deadly.

When the power is out during a winter storm, Safe Electricity suggests these tips to stay safe:
• Stay inside, and dress in warm, layered clothing.
• Close off unneeded rooms.
• When using an alternative heat source, follow operating instructions, use fire safeguards, and be sure to properly ventilate. Always keep a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher nearby, and know how to use it.
• Stuff towels and rags underneath doors to keep the heat in.
• Cover windows at night.
• Keep a close eye on the temperature in your home. Infants and people over the age of 65 are more susceptible to the cold. You may want to stay with friends or relatives or go to a shelter if you can’t keep your home warm.

Winter storms can create hazardous and stressful conditions, but with the proper knowledge and preparation, you can stay safe and warm. For more information on winter outages, generator safety and more, visit SafeElectricity.org.

For further information and videos on electrical safety, visit www.SafeElectricity.org. Safe Electricity is a program of the Energy Education Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting electrical safety and energy efficiency, and supported by a coalition of hundreds of organizations, including electric utilities, educators and other entities committed to promoting safe use of electricity.