December 15, 2010

Home Security: Preparing for Winter Emergencies

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 5:00 pm

Even before the official start of the 2010-2011 winter season, arctic temperatures had already begun hitting communities all across the USA. The winter cold and storms claimed nearly 20 lives in early December, for example, and as the weather gets colder there will likely be more tragic outcomes. That’s why it is especially important for homeowners to take precautions and get ready for possible emergencies like unexpected loss of heat and electrical power.

The beginning of winter is a time of great distraction, and everyone seems to be preoccupied with holiday celebrations, family get-togethers, and events like end-of-semester December graduations, public school closing due to inclement weather, and getting to the doctor for annual flu shots. But homeowners should make a New Year’s resolution to also ensure the safety of their families and homes by preparing for winter and the harsh, dangerous, potentially life-threatening conditions it often brings.

• For starters, every home should have recently purchased or recently inspected fire extinguishers, along with emergency supplies such as long-burning candles, flashlights, extra batteries, a battery powered weather radio, plenty of fresh water, and enough nutritional food staples to sustain everyone (including pets) for at least 4-5 days.

• In addition to food and water you also need to consider stockpiles of first aid supplies and any medicines that family members may need due to specific health conditions.

• To learn how to best stock up for an emergency in the most effective and practical manner, visit a Red Cross facility or website or drop by your local fire department and ask for advice.

• In addition to supplies for home in case of a power outage or other emergency, you should also create a smaller version of that emergency kit for each of your automobiles.

• Buy phone chargers that work in the outlet of your car or truck too, so that even if you lose power in your home you will be able to start your vehicle and then use the charger to replenish a cell phone that has a low battery. That can be really helpful during winter power outages.
Also, according the Center for Disease Control (CDC) nearly 500 people will die this year in the United States because of carbon monoxide poisoning, and unfortunately many of those deaths could have been prevented by doing a better job of routine home maintenance. Heating systems like gas furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, and gas-fueled emergency backup generators send approximately 20,000 people to the emergency room every year, for example, according to the CDC. As one doctor affiliated with the CDC explained, “Dangers from poorly-maintained heating systems are really going to be the number one cause of carbon monoxide poisonings in the United States.”

In December of 2010, for example, police discovered an entire family of four dead in their home, and authorities say that the awful tragedy was an accident caused by carbon monoxide poisoning – most likely from a furnace in need of repair. As the news media reported, the last contact that neighbors or friends made with the family was when they spoke to someone in the home who complained of feeling nauseous and sick.

While that can indicate flu symptoms, food poisoning, or even a hangover, it is also a telltale sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is odorless – unlike the gas fuel used in stoves and other systems that gives off a distinctive odor of rotten eggs. So it is possible to breathe it without realizing it, and once the victim becomes groggy they often just want to lie down and go to sleep. As a result they continue to breathe it and never wake up again because the gas is so lethal.

Space heaters are another big culprit. They need to be properly vented and they also need to be kept away from small children. Set a space heater too close to something flammable and it can start a fire, and that includes invisible fumes that are given off by such things as old cans of sealant or a nearby gas can used to fill your chainsaw, snow blower, or generator.

One excellent way to prepare your home for these contingencies is to hire a licensed home inspector to do a safety check of your home and offer feedback and a written report that you can refer to when prepping your property to be safe all winter. The cost is minimal when you consider the expense of dealing with the aftermath of an accident or emergency and the priceless value of feeling safe and secure in your home all year ‘round.