Regardless of where in the world your facilities are located, natural disasters present a potential risk. From tornadoes and hurricanes to massive blizzards and wild fires, countless events happen without warning throughout the year. No two disasters are exactly alike and preparing for and responding to these disasters may differ slightly depending where you are and what occurred, but one significant commonality crosses all geographic boundaries and disaster characteristics: Emergency preparedness is the single most important step you can take to help ensure everyone’s safety. (Photo credit: UL)

While it may never be possible to fully prepare for the unexpected, many organizations offer emergency preparedness information while others, such as UL, work with manufacturers and industry influencers to help ensure the safest emergency preparedness products make it to market. In addition to these efforts, you can act now to ensure that your organization has a plan in place and, most importantly, take the time to understand how to properly operate your backup resources.

Preparing the basics

The basic elements of emergency preparedness span nearly all possible scenarios, and organizations such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) provide information on how to prepare. Ideally, you should always start with a good plan that includes everything from knowing what the safe areas are in the facility, identifying facility exits and meeting points to a chain of contact that helps keep everyone informed and accounted for.

Your facilities may already have these elements documented in your evacuation plans. In addition, specific attention has likely been paid to the unique nature of your facility and the surrounding environment. However, the unique needs of those who may be impacted by the disaster must also be included.

These needs include special considerations due to the age of everyone at your site or business, unique medical needs (medication, oxygen, special physical needs, batteries, etc.), dietary restrictions, and even languages spoken. For those focused on the safety of everyone in the building, including plant managers, OSHA compliance managers, and safety directors, the goal is to establish a plan that addresses your facilities needs and is coordinated with local public safety officials. With this in mind, it is essential that you not only have a plan in place, but that you also fully understand how to properly use the tools and specialized equipment on which your plan may rely.

Safer use for a safer plan

Disasters rattle communities, businesses, and individuals, and tragic stories of emergency tools being accidentally misused (or not used at all) emerge all too often in the wake of these already difficult situations. Central to many of these stories are portable generators. While stationary generators are installed with a more specific operation scheme in place, portable generators are often neglected in planning because they may be used less often. In fact, there may be a chance the generator has never been used at all and the worst time to teach safe operation – or learn it for yourself – is during an emergency situation.

The most important rule to keep in mind is that it is never safe to operate portable generators inside, even if windows and doors are kept open. These generators produce carbon monoxide (CO) and, when used indoors or simply too close to a building, carbon monoxide poising is a significant risk. According to the “Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Deaths Associated with the Use of Consumer Products 2014 Annual Estimates” from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), portable generators have been associated with an estimated 696 non-fire CO poisoning fatalities since 2004, the highest number of fatalities from any single consumer product covered by the CPSC.

If your facility or site has a portable generator or is considering purchasing one, take the time to familiarize the team with its basic operation. This includes some seemingly simple things such as identifying how to safely connect it to your facility’s wiring system and knowing how much power it supplies. Specifying where the generator may be used is also essential to maintaining a safe environment.

UL, in collaboration with the CPSC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and other parties, recently developed a standard that aims to help make portables generators safer than ever. Generator manufacturers who have their products listed as compliant to ANSI/UL 2201, Standard for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Emission Rate of Portable Generators, an American National Standard, have demonstrated that their portable generators meet requirements for reduced carbon monoxide emissions and have a system that will shut down the generator if excess levels of the toxic gas are detected. 

Several manufacturers have already taken the initiative to produce safer products that meet the requirements of UL 2201. Though it remains important to remember that the placement of a portable generator – at least 20 feet from the building – is critical, a generator manufactured to comply with this rigorous standard adds an extra layer of safety. Simply look for the UL Mark on the product or product packaging and rest easy knowing the product was tested by UL, an independent third-party safety science organization, and designed by a manufacturer that has your safety in mind.

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