Storm-related carbon monoxide poisoning: An investigation of target audience knowledge and risk behaviors
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings in the United States consistently occur when residents improperly use portable gasoline-powered generators and other tools following severe storms and power outages. However, protective behaviors—such as installing CO alarms and placing generators more than 20 feet away from indoor structures—can prevent these poisonings. This study identified knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that lead consumers to adopt risk and protective behaviors for storm-related CO poisoning and post-storm generator use. Four focus groups (32 participants in total) were conducted with generator owners in winter and summer storm-prone areas to explore home safety, portable generator use, CO poisoning knowledge, and generator safety messages. Discussions were transcribed, and findings analyzed using an ordered meta-matrix approach. Although most generator owners were aware of CO poisoning, many were unsure what constitutes a safe location for generator operation and incorrectly stated that enclosed areas outside the home—such as attached garages, sheds, and covered porches—were safe. Convenience and access to appliances often dictated generator placement. Participants were receptive to installing CO alarms in their homes but were unsure where to place them. These findings suggest a deficit in understanding how to operate portable generators safely and a need to correct misconceptions around safe placement. In terms of behavioral price, the simple installation and maintenance of inexpensive CO alarms may be the most important strategy for ultimately protecting homes from both storm-related and other CO exposures.