Thursday, April 21, 2011

Disaster Mitigation - Storm Related

This is a multi-part post that will cover storm related issues including lightning, wind & power loss mitigation.  All of these scenarios are likely during a thunderstorm and there are several things we can do to lessen the effects.

Let's take a look at lightning.  There are things you can do to protect your property such as installing a lightning protection system.  Basically this would consist of lightning rods on the roof of your house, barn or other structures connected to heavy guage cables that provide the current a path to ground, therefore reducing or even eliminating the devastation of a lightning strike.  Also, you can install surge protectors for the whole home at the electric panel, or smaller plug in units at the outlets where sensitive devices are located.  For computers, a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) with surge protection built in.  This will allow you to shut down computers safely.

Wind is a common problem that occurs with hurricanes, tornadoes, microbursts, thunderstorms and winter storms.  It accounts for about 70% of insured losses reported worldwide.  Here are some suggestions to help reduce the impact of strong winds.  First, inspect and strengthen weak spots on your home.  Repair loose siding and roofing.  Roofs can be secured by installing anchors, braces or truss straps.  Get storm shutters for windows including patio and french doors.  Keep plywood on hand if your area is prone to high wind conditions such as hurricanes.  Anchor out buildings securely with long braces driven into the ground, this goes double for motor homes.  Don't leave loose items around the yard.  Make sure that gardening tools, building materials, and patio furniture & accessories are stored away in secured buildings, or at least tied down securely.  Consider a safe room inside your house.  Most injuries are caused by flying debris which can break trough windows easily.  Look for a room in or near the center of the home and with no windows.  Such a room can be easily constructed in a basement, but for many, the bathroom fits the bill nicely.  If you do use a basement room, be aware that many storms that provide high wind will also produce heavy rain and flooding could become an issue.

High winds are almost always accompanied by power loss as trees are uprooted, knocking out transmission lines.  Emergency lighting can be easily taken care of...see my earlier post on emergency lighting options here...
Many people, including myself, opt to keep a backup generator on hand.  You should know how to use it safely and keep fuel stored outside the house.  I have two refidgeraters, one chest freezer, and a deep well pump I run for 2 - 3 hours twice a day during extended outages.When the generator is running to keep the fridges cool and get water to the house, I plug in any rechargeables I need to boost up.  Ask about sizing a generator before making a purchase.  A 3000W unit simply would not do what I need it to.  Mine is in the range of 8000W with a surge of 9500W.  Here are some safety tips for running your genset.  Some people will suggest that you can plug your generator into a dryer outlet to "backfeed" your entire home.  There are two problems with this type of hookup.  First, you risk electrocuting linesmen that may be working to restore your power.  Second, Your homes electrical panel was not designed to have power fed backwards through the breakers and could easily set your home on fire.  Never use a generator inside your home, garage, basement or near windows or doors.  The fumes from the exhaust can kill you and they have no smell ar indication of their presence before it is too late.  Shut down your generator and allow it to cool before refueling.  If you store extra fuel for it, treat it with a fuel stabilizer to extend gas life.  Keep extra oil, sparkplugs and filters on hand and test it often.  A poorly maintained generator is prone to failure just when you need it most.  Read the manual and follow the maintenance guides and suggestions.