How to stay safe during a storm

Most older cottages don't have basements to hide in. Where you should go

By Ray FordRay Ford

Stay safe during storm

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Ensuring that you and your family are safe during a storm is extremely important. Here are some simple protection tips for indoors and outdoors:


Your best choices for hiding out are in the basement, the storm cellar, or a closet beneath the stairs, none common in older cottages.

If yours lacks these refuges, crawl beneath a sturdy piece of furniture on the main floor, away from outside walls and windows. Small rooms have more structural strength than big ones, so interior halls, closets, and washrooms may be an option.

If you have a cottage with a lot of glass, consider having your windows treated with a film that holds broken glass in place, such as 3M Scotchshield.


If possible, avoid being near trees or items that could become airborne in high winds.

Lie flat in a depression, ditch, or culvert, covering your head with your arms. Be ready to find a second refuge if a flood threatens.

On open, level ground, sitting in a frog position with your head between your knees offers some protection against lightning and debris.

A vehicle offers protection against lightning but is less than ideal in a tornado. If the car is your only option, scrunch down between the dash and the seat, and keep your head below the window.

If you’re out on the lake and can’t make it to shore, keep the bow of your boat just off-centre of the oncoming waves. If possible, find a sheltered bay or the lee of an island and drop anchor – the bow will automatically point into the wind.

When the lights go out

Call your utility. For Hydro One, call (800) 434-1235. Have your account number handy to help pinpoint your location.

Treat all downed wires as if they’re live. Stay at least 10 metres away.

If you see a grass or brush fire near your cottage, stay a safe distance away and look to see if downed hydro lines (or phone lines that have been energized by touching a hydro wire) are involved. If they are, call for help and stay well away. Defend the cottage and outbuildings by wetting down an area that will serve as a firebreak (damp grass makes a good firebreak).

If you use a generator, you can plug appliances directly into it (using the proper-gauge extension cord). A more permanent option is to install a transfer switch and “pony” panel (near the main panel) into which you plug your generator. The switch isolates the generator’s power from the grid and the panel acts as a mini-breaker unit wired to crucial appliances, such as the water and sewage pumps, fridge, and furnace.

Never, never backfeed your system by plugging the generator into a wall socket and running the juice to your appliances. You could zap hydro workers repairing the lines near the cottage, or ignite fires around downed lines. You may also overwork your generator.

Toss or keep?

Check frozen packaged food by squeezing. If it’s firm, or you can see ice crystals on the surface or hear them crunching when you squeeze, it’s still frozen.

Toss meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, processed cheese, and vacuum-packed meats if they’ve been warmer than 39°F (4°C) for four hours.

Tips for buying a portable generator

Most cottage needs can be met by a generator in the 3,500–6,000-watt range, but there’s a tradeoff: More power means more weight, and higher fuel consumption.

To determine optimal generator size, add up the peak wattage demand in essential appliances, or calculate it using this formula: amperage draw x rated voltage = watts. (Some appliances list wattage demand. Most list amps and volts.) For example, a vacuum cleaner drawing seven amps and rating 120 volts has a demand of 840 watts.

Handy features include overhead-valve (OHV) engines with cast-iron cylinder sleeves for durability, larger fuel capacity, sturdy frame, low-oil alert or shutoff, automatic idle (reducing engine speed when there’s no draw), and automatic voltage regulators.

Useful options include 240- and 120-volt outlets and turn-key start.

Use the proper extension cords – at least 14-gauge or better. Consider a generator-only power system by installing a transfer switch and auxiliary panel to power key appliances.

Always use the generator in a well-ventilated location outdoors.

Cut the racket by selecting a unit with noise-reducing engine mounts and an effective exhaust system.


This article was originally published on May 15, 2007

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