NORTHBROOK, Ill., April 6, 2009 -- Severe storms can happen anywhere across the country at anytime, and they are the cause of more than $11 billion in damages and nearly 350 fatalities every year1. Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent product safety organization, urges families to remember that the impending weather may also bring a high risk of devastating winds, damaging hail and heavy rains.
As torrential downpours and winds begin, many families find too late that they are not prepared to weather a storm. Consumers may quickly come face-to-face with myriad problems, including costly charges to repair homes affected by wind, hail and rain, deadly water contamination during floods, and often, the risk of fire, dangerous gas leaks and electric shock. As the onset of the sometimes volatile spring season nears, families should revisit their plans to prepare for severe weather by following UL's potentially life-saving "Ready, Set, Recovery" tips outlined below.
"Don't wait until the next big storm to create a disaster plan for your family," says John Drengenberg, manager of Consumer Affairs for UL. "Often, by the time you realize a weather warning has been issued, it is too late. Many will end up struggling to pick up the pieces in the days or even months of aftermath."
As the leading safety testing and certification organization in North America, UL has conducted product safety testing for 115 years. Each year, 21 billion UL Marks appear on more than 19,000 types of products - from the shingles on a roof to the electric wiring that provides power to the appliances in the home - all of which have been evaluated to meet nationally recognized safety standards.
Drengenberg and UL recommend families plan ahead for the worst case scenarios to increase their likelihood of surviving a major storm.
- As a first step, check with your local storm or emergency services office to determine the kind of severe weather that most frequently affects your area.
- Next, gather your family and prepare, develop and practice safety drills for the various weather situations you could potentially experience.
- Finally, pay close attention to severe weather warnings. With today's forecasting technology, meteorologists can provide life-saving warnings if dangerous winds, rains, hail or storms are approaching.
There are many steps consumers should take to help reduce damages from hazards like strong winds, heavy rains and rising waters. This will help ease the course of recovery once the storm has passed.
- If needed, disconnect electrical appliances and turn off utilities via the main switches or valves.
- If possible, carefully observe the windows, doors and roof of your home for water leaks and other damages. These can be problematic areas if not properly sealed for severe weather.
- Remain inside until the storm has completely passed. However, in the instance of fire or the smell of natural gas, leave the building immediately and call the fire department.
When the winds have calmed and skies have cleared, there are still significant actions needed to keep your family safe. UL suggests consumers take the following precautions to avoid dangers.
- Be extremely cautious of floodwater - it is frequently contaminated with septic waste, oil and/or hazardous debris. It may also be electrically live, which could cause a potential shock hazard.
- To avoid electrical shock, never plug in a wet or damaged appliance. All water-damaged equipment should be inspected by a qualified technician and then either refurbished or replaced.
- If a "boil order" has been issued for water in your community, boil at a roiling rate for 10 minutes to ensure it is safe for use.
- If you experience power outages and choose to use a portable generator, do so with extreme caution. When not used properly or when used indoors, these devices may present potential safety risks like carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire.
 According to 2007 reports from the National Weather Service