229124 Understanding risk behaviors for storm- and disaster-related carbon monoxide poisoning

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Douglas Rupert, MPH , Health Communication Program, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC
Jon Poehlman, PhD , Health Promotion Research, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC
Peyton Williams, BA , Health Communication Program, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC
Scott A. Damon, MAIA, CPH , Nceh, CDC, Atlanta, GA
Background: Unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning causes 500 deaths and more than 15,000 injuries in the U.S. annually. A variety of fuel-burning appliances emit CO, a toxic, colorless, and odorless gas. The incidence of CO poisoning spikes after major storms and disasters, as residents turn to portable generators for power and heat, often placing them in unventilated areas. Despite this trend, little is known about the beliefs and attitudes that drive improper generator placement or the use of CO alarms in post-disaster situations.

Methods: We conducted focus groups with portable generator owners (n=32) in two cities frequently hit by summer and winter storms. All participants used generators in post-disaster scenarios. The sessions explored participants' generator locations and rationale, storm preparations, CO awareness, and CO alarm placement.

Results/Outcomes: Most participants had pre-determined locations for generators, and many placed them in semi-enclosed areas, such as garages, carports, and covered patios. Access to key appliances—furnaces, refrigerators, and air conditioning units—was the primary determinant of generator location. Participants were aware of CO but felt their risk of poisoning was minimal, often citing the absence of traditional gas appliances. Only half of participants had CO alarms, and most placed them near appliances rather than in bedrooms or common areas.

Conclusions: Convenience and low perceived risk drive unsafe generator placement after storms and disasters, leading to CO poisoning. Educating residents about proper generator ventilation and CO alarm installation is key to preventing post-disaster injury and death.

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain the risk behaviors that lead to storm-related carbon monoxide poisoning and the underlying beliefs and attitudes that drive those behaviors. 2. Describe individuals’ current knowledge and use of residential carbon monoxide alarms and the barriers to proper alarm placement. 3. Discuss strategies for educating consumers about carbon monoxide and encouraging protective behaviors after storms and other disasters.

Keywords: Disasters, Environmental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I helped design the study, led the qualitative research, and analyzed and reported findings.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.