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Power outages are common during disasters and could last for several days. As utility crews work to get the power restored, a generator is an invaluable piece of equipment that can help your life begin to feel normal again. Before purchasing or operating a generator, there are several aspects to consider, including potential dangers if used incorrectly. 

First, it is important to understand the facts about portable generators.

  • Portable generators have a relatively short run-time and may need to be refueled several times a day during a prolonged power outage.
  • Most portable generators are designed to work with a few appliances or pieces of electrical equipment that may be plugged directly into the generator without the use of a generator transfer switch.
  • This type of generator isn’t recommended if you are operating sensitive equipment or have numerous large appliances or business machines.
  • Before using a portable generator remember to purchase an electric power cord to feed the electrical equipment:
  • This should be a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord sized for the total electrical load (voltage and amps) you may need.
  • Choose a cord that exceeds the total expected load in order to prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord.
  • Ensure that the cord has three prongs and has no splits, cuts or holes in the external insulation covering.
  • An overloaded power cord can potentially start a fire.

Whenever operating a generator, there are several rules of safety to remember.

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust is a common and serious danger that can result in death if generators are used improperly, in particular, if the fuel is not burned completely.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector to warn of rising levels and remember to test the batteries before using. Running a generator improperly can kill you in as little as five minutes if the concentration of carbon monoxide is high enough.
  • When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light-headed.
  • Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents or air intakes that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. It is advised to keep portable generators at least 25 feet from the house.
  • Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.
  • Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.
  • Keep the generator dry. If needed, operate portable generators under an open canopy type structure. Short circuits may occur in wet conditions resulting in the generator catching fire.
  • Store fuel in an approved storage container or holding tank designed for such use, and only use fuel that is recommended in the owner’s manual. Never store fuel indoors.
  • Do not keep fuel near the electric generator while the electric generator is in use, as it could start a fire.
  • Never refuel while the generator is running, and always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher located nearby.
  • Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but in plain view to allow for visual inspections of any damage, such as fraying or cuts, that could result in a fire.
  • Do not “back feed” power into your electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and potentially others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase the low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts. Some states have laws that make the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s electricity cannot feed back into the power lines, and for notifying the local utility of the location of any commercial, industrial, or residential generator.
  • The exterior portions of a generator, even those operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.

Always follow the directions supplied with the generator and in case of emergency, call for help from a fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrives to assist you.