Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emergency Management Officials Urge Public to Stay Safe

The electricity provider MetEd announced Tuesday night that they estimate the thousands of people left without electricity in the aftermath of "superstorm" Sandy will see full service restoration by Monday, Nov. 5--or Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the latest in some areas.

That's a long time to go without, and people are being forced to make do in the meantime. However, some stop-gap measures to get by without power can be dangerous--even deadly--if proper care isn't taken.

Local emergency management officials are urging the public to use common sense and exercise caution while services are being restored.

Battery-operated lights are better than candles

"Be very, very careful with candles," warned Easton Fire Chief John Bast Tuesday afternoon. "We'd rather people didn't use them at all. Battery-operated flashlights and lanterns are much safer."

But for those who must use candles, Bast offered the following advice:

  • Don't fall asleep when candles are lit
  • Use glass hurricane shades whenever possible
  • Make sure smoke detectors are working

"Halloween is one time people are supposed to check their smoke detector batteries anyway. Now is a very good time to do so," Bast said.

With colder temperatures arriving, he noted that it might be tempting for people to try to warm up in ways that are unsafe.

"Never use a gas oven for heating," he said, adding that cooking on a grill indoors can also be deadly.

For those with generators, he offered the reminder that they must be kept outdoors and never run in a house or garage where they can create a deadly build-up of carbon monoxide fumes.

Kerosene heaters should also be approached with a great deal of caution, both because of the risk of fumes and also because of the risk of fire.

Know these things when driving in a widespread power outage

With many traffic signals inoperative due to power outages, PennDOT also offered advice to motorists via email on Tuesday.

Traffic lights that are out should be treated as four-way stops, the state transportation agency says.

For signals that are blinking, a flashing red light should be treated like a stop sign; a blinking yellow light has right of way, but motorists should proceed with caution through the intersection.

Also, last month a new state law went into effect that imposes stiff penalties on motorists who ignore “road closed” or other safety warning signs and devices.
Under the law, motorists who past traffic control devices closing a road or highway due to hazardous conditions will have two points added to their driving records and can be fined up to $250.

If the violation results in a need for emergency responders to be called, the fine increases to between $250 and $500, and violators will be held liable for repaying the costs of the emergency response.
With the extent of damage the storm caused to electrical lines and trees, it may take work crews some time to clear dangerous situations, and some damaged lines and trees may still come crashing down.

Downed trees and power lines are dangerous

Met-Ed warns that touching a live power line can cause serious injury or death. You can't tell by looking whether a line is "hot" or not. Even if a downed line isn't actively sparking, always assume it is carrying electricity.

The company further states:
  • Immediately report downed wires to 888-544-4877 or your local police or fire department by calling 911.
  • Never go near a downed power line, even if you think it's no longer carrying electricity.
  • Stay more than 30 feet away from downed power lines, don't walk or drive near or over a downed line, and watch out for anything touching the line.
  • If a wire falls on a vehicle, passengers should stay inside until help arrives.
  • Don't drive over downed power lines.
  • If a downed line is near water - even a small puddle - keep well away.
  • Keep children and pets away from any wires.
  • Be careful not to stand under damaged tree limbs or power lines. Tree limbs can become weakened during a storm but not fall until several hours or days later. The same can be true for damaged power lines or poles.
  • Unplug appliances like refrigerators and freezers, and sensitive electronic equipment like TVs and computers, so that they won't overload when power is restored.
  • When operating a generator, always disconnect the power coming into your home. Otherwise, power from your generator could be sent back onto the utility lines, creating a hazardous situation for utility workers. The proper generator should be selected and installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Stay out of flooded basements, even if the power is off. Stay away from the breaker box if it's in a flooded basement.
Avoid food poisoning 

The lack of electricity also presents difficulties when it comes to food storage.

Most refrigerated foods become unsafe to consume after being kept at 40 degree temperatures for more than two hours--that's about four hours in the average refrigerator without power when the door's been kept closed.

Obviously, with the expectation electricity won't be restored to the local area until next week, that's a problem.

Still, some foods that are commonly kept cold are safe to eat for longer, says , including:

  • Hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano
  • Processed cheese, such as American
  • Butter and margarine
  • Fruit juices, opened canned fruits, fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces
  • Opened vinegar-based dressings
  • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, and breakfast foods--waffles, pancakes, bagels
  • Pies, fruit 
  • Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
  • Raw vegetables

Nearly all other refrigerated foods should be discarded, especially highly perishable ones like meat. You can’t always rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

Remember, "If in doubt, throw it out."

For more detailed information about food safety during an emergency, click here.

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