INFO & ASSISTANCE
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During a power outage, people look for ways to cook and stay warm indoors. This can lead to an increased risk of carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning. Every year in the U.S. people are harmed by carbon monoxide. 20,000+ visit the emergency room, 4,000+ are hospitalized, and 400+ die. This most commonly happens during a power outage.
If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move to a source of fresh air and call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If someone needs immediate medical care, call 9-1-1.
Carbon monoxide, or “CO,” is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you. It is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, space heaters, water heaters, gas ranges, clothing dryers, and oil or gas furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.
CO prevents your body from using oxygen. It can damage your heart, brain, and other organs. Symptoms of CO poisoning are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO, it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms. Early symptoms include:
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue (feeling drowsy)
- Chest pain
- Never use a gas or propane stove, lantern, grill, or generator inside your home.
- Portable generators should be used outdoors at least 25 feet away from a window, door, or vent. Basements and garages are not safe places to run a generator, even with doors and windows open.
- Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage or carport. It is dangerous even if you leave the door open.
- During winter, make sure your home’s exhaust vent is clear of snow and ice. Make sure your tailpipe isn’t blocked by snow or debris when you start your car. Do not warm your car up in a garage with the door closed.
- If you use a fireplace, make sure that your vents and flues are free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Oregon and Washington Law requires working alarms in all homes and apartments with a potential source of CO gas. They must be in each apartment and on each occupied floor. Replace your carbon monoxide detector's batteries when you adjust your clock for Daylight Saving Time. If your CO alarm goes off, leave immediately and call 9-1-1.
- Make sure your gas and oil appliances and heating systems are installed properly, working well, and regularly serviced. The owner of a building is responsible for servicing and maintaining its heating system.
- Never leave a child or pet in a car with the motor running. Don’t have windows open near running cars or trucks.
- It is not safe to use a vehicle or motor home engine to heat a parked vehicle or camper if you are staying in it overnight.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency (OHA Fact Sheet)
BEFORE, DURING & AFTER POWER OUTAGE
Sometimes we get warnings that a power outage is likely. If you are expecting a storm, wildfire, or another event that may damage utilities, take these steps:
- Make sure your carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are working and you know how to prevent CO poisoning. This is one of the top causes of injury and death during a power outage. See below to learn more.
- Make sure you have enough medication, clean water, and non-perishable food to last at least a few days. Two weeks is even better!
- Make sure your medical devices, flashlights, and other emergency supplies are in good condition and easy to access.
- Make sure cell phones, laptops, power banks, portable power stations, and batteries are charged.
- Fill your vehicle and other gas tanks.
- Put a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be at 40°F or below. The freezer should be at 0°F or below. Next, fill your freezer with water bottles. They will help keep your refrigerator cold for longer, and you can use the water when it melts.
- Make sure you are signed up to receive PublicAlerts so you can receive emergency messages from your electric company, water provider, and emergency managers.
- Check with neighbors to see if they need help getting ready.
Give Help, Seek Help
Check on your loved ones and neighbors. Older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Know how to get help if some is experiencing an emergency. Go to a community location with power if there is extreme heat or cold weather.
Outages can impact water quality. Your water provider can tell you if your water is safe. If you’re in the Portland Metro Region, you can use the water provider lookup tool to find out which company serves your area. Do not use tap water for drinking, cooking, or personal hygiene until you are sure water advisories have been lifted.
Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. If the doors stay closed, food will stay safe for up to four hours in a refrigerator; 24 hours in a half-full freezer; 48 hours in a full freezer. If the power has been out for four hours and a cooler and ice are available, put refrigerated perishable foods in the cooler. To keep them at 40°F or below, add ice or a cold source like frozen gel packs.
Outages can also impact water supply. To stay healthy, you need to keep your hands clean. Visit the CDC's website for hand washing instructions, and check out this great idea for building a handwashing station.
You may also need an emergency toilet. Deadly diseases can spread when human feces (poo) are not handled and stored safely. Visit EmergencyToilet.org to learn about three great emergency toilet methods: twin buckets, latrines, and septic systems. The right method for you depends on where you live and what you can access.
Carbon Monoxide Safety
Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Generators, camp stoves, or charcoal grills should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows. Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home. See below for more info.
Home fires are a threat after a natural disaster, and fire trucks may have trouble getting to your home. If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights. If you must use candles, place them in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.
Fallen Power Line Safety
“Downed wires” are electrical power lines that have fallen. Even if a downed wire is not moving, it can have electrical current and be able to cause serious injury or death. Look out for downed wires after an event that has the potential to damage infrastructure. Examples: severe weather, wildfires, earthquakes. Treat all downed wires as extremely dangerous. To report a downed wire, contact your electrical company. If the wire is making fire or sparks, call 9-1-1.
Electrical Surge Prevention
Power may return with a quick “surge” or “spike” and damage your electronic devices. As soon as your power goes out, disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges. Leave a lamp plugged in and turned on so you know when power is restored. You can also buy devices to provide surge protection.
Your water supply may still be impacted even after your power is restored. The Regional Water Providers Consortium has great info about how to access emergency water sources in your home and how to treat emergency water to make sure it’s safe.
Throw out perishable food above 40° (meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers) after four hours without power or a cold source like dry ice. Throw out any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out. Visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency for more information.
If the power is out for more than a day, discard refrigerated medication unless the label says otherwise. If a life depends on the refrigerated drugs, consult a doctor or pharmacist and use medicine only until a new supply is available.
Many people can survive a brief power outage, but some of us rely on electricity for medical devices or other life-saving equipment. And all of us should consider how we can meet our physical and communication needs during a longer-term outage or days or weeks.
Do you rely on medical equipment or medication that needs to be refrigerated? If so, it’s very important to be prepared before an outage. Gather supplies and have an emergency plan that considers your needs. For some, backup batteries may be enough. If not, a backup generator may be an option. Or you may need to temporarily relocate or evacuate during an extended power outage.
Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.
Portland General Electric Customers
- Outreach from PGE Advisors during power outages and Public Safety Power Shutoffs
- Support in building an outage back-up plan
- Help with more flexible billing and payment arrangements throughout the year
If you have Medicaid, you can get certain non-medical emergency preparedness items from Health Share Oregon. Examples: batteries, fans, air conditioning units, air purifiers, etc. This process can take a while, so plan ahead. To learn more, contact Health Share at 503-416-8090 or contact your health plan directly:
- CareOregon: 503-416-4100
- Kaiser Permanente: 503-721-6435
- Legacy | PacificSource: 888-675-0350
- OHSU Health: 844-827-6572
- Providence: 503-574-7247
Home generators can be a convenient backup during a power outage. If used incorrectly, they can be very dangerous and cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators outdoors and away from windows. PGE has info about Backup Generator types and safe operation. For more information call the PGE Power Quality Hotline at 503-736-5750 or 800-270-7016.