Massive power outages are likely to leave many East Coast residents in the dark, as Hurricane Sandy's winds are forecast to affect residents within a 500-mile radius beginning as early as tonight. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety http://disastersafety.org/ (IBHS) offers the following guidance about the safe use of portable generators.

A generator poses certain risks that must be addressed for safe operation, including fire, damage to electrical equipment, and even injury or death to people operating the generator or in the building where it is being used, according to IBHS.

FACTS ABOUT PORTABLE GENERATORS

Portable generators have a relatively short run-time and may need to be refueled several times a day during a prolonged power outage.

Most portable generators are designed to work with a few appliances or pieces of electrical equipment that may be plugged directly into the generator without the use of a generator transfer switch.

This type of generator isn't recommended if you are operating sensitive equipment or have numerous large appliances or business machines.

Before using a portable generator remember to purchase an electric power cord to feed the electrical equipment:

This should be a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord sized for the total electrical load (voltage and amps) you may need.

Choose a cord that exceeds the total expected load in order to prevent excessive heat buildup and degradation of the power cord.

Ensure that the cord has three prongs and has no splits, cuts or holes in the external insulation covering.

An overloaded power cord can potentially start a fire.

SAFETY ISSUES

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from engine exhaust is a common and serious danger that can result in death if generators are used improperly, in particular, if the fuel is not burned completely. Install a CO detector to warn of rising levels.

When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel flu like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light headed.

Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow CO to come indoors.

Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.

Carefully follow all instructions on properly "grounding" the generator.

Keep the generator dry. If needed, operate portable generators under an open canopy type structure. Short circuits may occur in wet conditions resulting in the generator catching fire.

FUEL

Store fuel in an approved storage container or holding tank designed for such use, and only use fuel that is recommended in the owner's manual. Never store fuel indoors.

Do not keep fuel near the electric generator while the electric generator is in use, as it could start a fire.

Never refuel while the generator is running, and always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher located nearby.

Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but in plain view to allow for visual inspections of any damage, such as fraying or cuts, that could result in a fire.

AVOID BACK FEEDING

Do not "back feed" power into your electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and potentially others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase the low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts. Some states have laws that make the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator's electricity cannot feed back into the power lines, and for notifying the local utility of the location of any commercial, industrial, or residential generator.

The exterior portions of a generator, even those operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.

Find Additional Guidance for Using Commercial Generators. http://disastersafety.org/commercial_maintenance/commercial-generators/

IBHS' free Hurricane Sandy Preparedness and Recovery Resources http://disastersafety.org/disastersafety/sandy-preparation-and-recover-r... are available for residents and others who may find themselves in the storm's path when it makes landfall. Resources include guidance on reducing property damage before the storm hits, and repairing, rebuilding and recovering safely following the storm.

IBHS is a leading national expert on preparing for, and repairing and rebuilding structures after a catastrophe to make them more disaster-resistant. To arrange an interview with IBHS, contact Joseph King at 813-675-10413-442-2845, jking@ibhs.org or via direct message on Twitter @jsalking.

Visit DisasterSafety.org http://disastersafety.org/ for more information about how to make your buildings more resistant to a variety of disasters, big and small. Follow IBHS on Twitter at @DisasterSafety and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Insurance-Institute-for-Business-Home-Safe... .