Stocked Up and Safe at Home

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

Whenever winds knock out the electricity in rural St. Mary's County, the lights stay on and the fridge keeps humming at Jackie St. Clair's waterfront home, thanks to an emergency generator out back.

If a tornado warning sounds, she's ready for that, too. There's a "safe room" in the basement, about 12 feet square made of reinforced concrete.

"It's basically built like a bank vault," said St. Clair, a volunteer for the Southern Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross.

Her motto: "You can never have enough preparation."

In this unpredictable world, where danger lurks in far too many places, home can be a sanctuary -- that is, until the unpredictable happens.

Fires. Scalding tap water. Poisonings. Tornadoes. Electrical outages. Floods.

They kill. They maim. They turn lives upside down.

Emergency and safety experts say there are plenty of products, cheap or expensive, that can make homes safer or more tolerable in bad situations.

Here are some:

Power Precautions

When fallen trees, freezing rain or howling winds knock out electrical lines, the lights aren't the only thing to go. The refrigerator and freezer may hold hundreds of dollars' worth of groceries. Air conditioning makes hot, steamy days easier.

· Generators can keep things running. There are portable ones that run on gasoline and cost about $600 to $1,100 and stationary ones that run on propane or gas and generally range from about $2,500 to $8,000. Briggs & Stratton has a 12,000-watt stationary unit for about $4,500 that dials your phone with a recorded message to let you know when there's a malfunction. Safety experts warn not to run portable generators indoors.

· Whole-house battery backup systems are an alternative to generators. A 2,000- to 4,000-watt system can provide electricity for two to 12 hours, but that can vary depending on other factors, according to ToolBase Services, which provides technical information to the building industry. The cost of the battery system ranges from less than $1,000 to $5,000.

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