Hypothermia: The hidden danger you should prepare for

Hypothermia: The hidden danger you should prepare for

Have you ever been really cold? Like teeth-chattering, shivering like crazy, cold? Would you believe that, at that moment, you were suffering from mild hypothermia?

If you are like most people, that probably sounds crazy. And for good reason. Except for people climbing huge mountains, or hiking in Alaska, hypothermia is just not something you’ve ever had to worry about. Right?

Now, what if you were told that the CDC recorded an average of 1,301 hypothermia deaths per year in the US between 1999-2011? That many of those deaths were regular people in regular places, who just ventured out or were otherwise unprepared during a severe winter storm?

What if you were told that you can get hypothermia in your own home during a winter storm, and you might not even realize it was happening? 

Not only is hypothermia a very real danger to anyone in a home without heat during a winter storm, but that danger can happen anywhere it snows. So recognizing the signs of hypothermia, how to prevent it, and also how to treat it, can prevent one of your loved ones from becoming another number on that CDC bar chart.

What Is Hypothermia, Really?

Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature falls below 95° F, and your body is losing heat faster than it can produce it. To better understand the idea, think of the human body like trying to fill a bucket with holes in it. The holes let a certain amount of water escape the bucket, and as long as you fill the bucket at the same rate, the water level will remain in the same place. In balance. Well, if you make the holes bigger, without increasing the amount of water being poured, the bucket will empty faster than it can be filled. Simple.

The human body is just like that bucket. Our balanced temperature is 98.6° F. To maintain that balance and keep us alive, our body can either produce heat through shivering, or give off heat through sweating. 

But when we are exposed to cold temperatures, our body starts losing heat faster than it can produce it. Sticking with our analogy, the holes are made bigger but the water can’t be poured any faster. The bucket is destined to empty out.

Back to our body’s, when heat is lost faster than it can be produced, hypothermia is the eventual outcome. And without intervention, hypothermia is fatal.

Since you can’t treat what you don’t recognize, it’s time to learn the symptoms.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

The interesting thing about hypothermia is it’s a deceiving and sneaky condition. When a person is first exposed to cold, they start shivering. That's the bodies natural way of trying to keep warm. If they don't seek shelter, the shivering will increase in strength to try replacing the heat being lost. 

At this point, the individual doesn’t realize anything is wrong besides being uncomfortable. What they don’t know is that hypothermia is already taking hold. As the person stays in the cold, and hypothermia gets worse, the individual may become confused and start to suffer from poor judgement. They will have slower movements, and may even be clumsy. Their hypothermia-fueled confusion will likely prevent them from realizing something is very wrong.

With their core body temperature continuing to fall, their body will make a last-ditch effort to conserve vital energy and stop shivering. This person is now in need of immediate medical help to prevent death. During all of this, the victim likely won’t ever realize how bad their condition is getting. 

If you didn’t realize how important knowing the signs of hypothermia were before, you sure do now. Below is the full list of symptoms: 

Mild hypothermia

  • Pale skin that is cool to the touch
  • Lack of concern about their condition
  • Clumsiness 
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty performing routine tasks
  • Poor judgement

Severe hypothermia

  • Stiff muscles
  • Slow pulse
  • Sleepiness or Unconsciousness
  • Severe confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • The shivering stops

Any, or all, of these severe symptoms may occur. If even a single one of these symptoms is noticed in a cold person, you should assume they are experiencing severe hypothermia and help them get warm immediately.

So, as long as we stay inside this won’t happen. Right? If only that were true...

Hypothermia In Your Home

During a severe winter storm, there's a chance that power could be be knocked out to your home. In fact, a recent Department of Energy report noted that the aging U.S. power grid is no match for the increasingly severe storms that are happening. Without a major overhaul, power outages will only increase.

If you’ve never lost power during a winter storm before, it’s only a matter of time before you do. And, if you’re one of the majority of Americans who heat their homes using some type of fuel-fed burner and pump system, without power, you have no heat.

Depending on how insulated your house is (many are unknowingly, sub-standard), the temperature inside your house can drop to uncomfortable levels in just a few hours. As time goes on, the temperature will continue to drop as heat leaves the house through drafts, leaky windows, and poor insulation. Even with a brand-new, fully-compliant, super insulated home, the heat will still escape. Think about it, if the house could maintain a constant temperature, why would they still have heat?

With that indoor temperature inevitably falling, hypothermia risks start to climb. According to the University of Michigan Medical Center, hypothermia starts to become a real risk at temperatures as high as 50°

Eventually, over a period of time, the inside of your powerless house will try and match the temperature outside. That means you can be sitting on your living room couch, but that couch might as well be in your front yard.

Hypothermia also doesn’t have to be a fast event, either. It can set in slowly, over a period of days, as your body slowly loses its heat edge. Little by little. You may have even experienced this yourself after being in the cold for a long time. Even after coming inside, you just don’t feel warm.

Treating Hypothermia

The #1 treatment for hypothermia is warming the person up! For mild hypothermia, treatment can be as easy as getting the victim to a sheltered spot and wrapping them in blankets. The added insulation gives their body a much needed boost against heat loss, and they will eventually warm themselves back up. For advanced or severe hypothermia, however, you have to be much more aggressive.

In severely hypothermic people, their body’s defense mechanisms have been stretched to the absolute breaking point. In this situation, active warming is needed. An external heat source like an electric blanket, warm water bottles, or even skin-to-skin contact with a warm person, will be required to prevent further damage and reverse the condition. This is not a matter of preference, either, it’s a matter of preventing a critical medical emergency and even death.

And if this occurs during a severe winter storm, with trees and power lines blocking roads, transport to a hospital may not be an option. The truth is, if conditions are bad enough, even 911 can’t respond.

Recognizing and treating hypothermia are two huge steps towards saving a loved one’s life during an extreme winter storm. What if we prevented the situation from even getting that bad in the first place?

Preventing Hypothermia

The best defense against hypothermia is obviously adequate shelter and heat. As long as your power stays on, and the heat keeps pumping, your home will serve your every need towards preventing hypothermia. It could be a blizzard outside, with every road around you blocked up with trees, and you’ll be just fine as long as that power stays on.

That is, after all, how we avoid hypothermia all winter long on a normal basis. We stay inside and we turn on the heat.

The only problem is, that means you are relying on a 50-year old power grid that has created more power outages than any other developed nation, on Earth. Not only do blackouts happen during every significant storm, but the Department of Energy says that rate is on the rise. In the last decade, power outages due to storms have increased 124%. 

So, if keeping the lights on and the heat working can be the difference between life and death during a severe winter disaster, the best prevention tip is to take matters into your own hands by securing your own electricity. 

Whole home standby generators are the single most important investment a family can make towards preparing their home for severe winter weather.

Permanently installed and wired directly into your house, these generators start automatically the moment power is lost, and pick up the slack without missing a beat. No lugging a portable generator out into the snow, no messing with dangerous gas cans with freezing cold fingers, and no worries about carbon monoxide leaking into your house because the generator is too close.

They are the safety net every modern family should have.

And reliable generators, like those built by Cummins Home Generators, are specifically engineered to run like crazy until your power is restored. That could be in an hour, a few days, or even a few weeks. It won’t matter at all to your generator. Cummins has over 100 years of industry experience designing engines that work hard. 

Just like the Cummins generators that protect emergency operations centers, hospitals, and military bases overseas, your home will never be without power or heat. You can go right back to never having to worry about hypothermia again, because your house can’t lose power.

But the good news is, now you know how to recognize hypothermia and treat it. So you can check that box off on the list of things you should be doing to prepare for severe winter weather. And if you want to check off the box labeled “never lose power again”, then locate your nearest Cummins dealer, and get a painless home estimate with financing through Synchrony Bank. 

James Warnet

James Warnet is a freelance direct response copywriter and digital marketer who specializes in the emergency services and first responder markets. With almost two decades of experience as a firefighter, James combines professional experience and deep research to help brands connect with their most valued customers. 

Home Generator Safety Checklist

Home Generator Safety Tips - Cummins

Follow these home generator safety tips when preparing your home and family for long-term power outages.

With a little more than one month left on the already tumultuous Atlantic hurricane season, not to mention the likelihood of severe winter storms on the horizon, now is the time for power outage preparation

Preparing for long term outages is important, and if you have already taken the step to ensure continuous emergency power by purchasing a generator, consider the steps you need to take to safely operate a backup home generator. 

The biggest risk of home generators is carbon monoxide (CO) gas. It is called “the silent killer” because it is odorless and colorless, meaning that most people inhaling it don’t even realize until it is too late. Symptoms of CO poisoning can look a lot like the flu, and in severe cases, it can cause permanent brain damage or death. CO can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated.

Here are a few tips for keeping your family safe while operating a generator during your next power outage.

Portable Gas or Diesel Generators Safety Tips:

  1. Always follow manufacturer instructions when setting up a generator.
  2. Never use a generator inside your home or garage. They should be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas that are at least 20 feet away from any homes or dwellings.
  3. Look for any places air can enter the home near your unit and ensure that those are properly closed and sealed off. This includes windows or doors, air intakes, nearby dryer vents or crawl spaces.
  4. Reliable, approved, and operable battery powered CO detector alarms should be installed in proper locations on each floor in the home as specified by the manufacturer. 
  5. Give the generator a break that allows for any concentrated exhaust to clear away from the area. Open your windows and doors during this break to air out any concentration that may have collected in your home.
  6. Ensure that your generator is being appropriately maintained, including regular oil changes. 

Permanently Installed Gas or Diesel Generators Safety Tips:

  1. Install the generator outdoors only.  Work with a professional installer (link to https://cummins.tech/tj1e6z) to locate the generator away from windows, doors, and other openings to the house where exhaust gases will disperse away from the house or occupied areas.
  2. Install all parts of the generator enclosure at least 60 inches from any openings in walls of structures that may be occupied.  Examples of wall openings include, but are not limited to, operable windows, doors, dryer vents, fresh air intakes for heaters, etc.
  3. Look for any places air can enter the home near your unit and ensure that those are properly closed and sealed off. This includes, but not limited to, windows or doors, air intakes, nearby dryer vents or crawl spaces. Your generator must be located such that exhaust gases are not able to accumulate in an occupied area.
  4. Ensure that generators are used, maintained, and operated in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. If there is a concern that the installation standards have not been met, get an appropriate party, like the installer, out to inspect it.
  5. Give the generator a break that allows for any concentrated exhaust to clear away from the area. Open your windows and doors during this break to air out any concentration that may have collected in your home.
  6. Check the exhaust system for corrosion, obstruction, and leaks every time you start the generator and every eight hours when run continuously.
  7. Ensure that your generator is being appropriately maintained, including regular oil changes.
  8. Reliable, approved, and operable battery powered CO detector alarms should be installed in proper locations on each floor in the home as specified by the manufacturer.

Cummins home generators are extremely quiet, aesthetically pleasing and remotely accessible. If you have not yet taken the step to purchase a backup generator, consider scheduling a painless home assessment with your nearest Cummins dealer. In just a few minutes you can know exactly how little the ultimate peace of mind can cost.

Catherine Morgenstern - Cummins Inc.

Catherine Morgenstern

Catherine Morgenstern is a Brand Journalist for Cummins, covering topics such as alternative propulsion, digitalization, manufacturing innovation, autonomy, sustainability, and workplace trends. She has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications, holding leadership positions most recently within the Industrial Capital Goods sector.

Catherine began her career as a marketing writer for a biotechnology company, where she learned to take complicated and highly technical information and make it accessible to everyone. She believes the concept of “storytelling” is more than a trendy buzzword and loves to find ways for her readers to make personal connections to her subjects. Catherine has a passion for technology and innovation and how its intersection can make an impact in all our lives.

Catherine recently moved back to her hometown in the Hudson Valley, New York after a several decades in Los Angeles and Chicago. She is a graduate of UCLA and enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and three children.

Components of Microgrids

Microgrids are technology marvels. Check out the different components that come together under a microgrid.

Utility grids and microgrids have a lot in common. Both serve the same function—to provide electrical power to consumers. Both are subject to the same constraints—ensuring that electrical generation and electric load are equal at all times. Their components, however, are different. 

Microgrids are at a much smaller scale than utility grids and as a result include components that are accordingly scaled down. 

Here are the main components of a microgrid:

Electricity generation resources within microgrids

The beating heart of a microgrid consists of a set of electricity generation resources. Typical generation resources found in microgrids include diesel and/or natural gas generators, solar arrays and wind turbines.

The most basic microgrids are usually built around one or more diesel generators. When natural gas is available, gas generators are also among the options available. Older island microgrids, for example, are based on a small power plant consisting of a few diesel engines coupled to alternators. Generators are the default choice to power a microgrid because they can cover a wide range of loads and because they can be used as backup power. They start quickly, are responsive to changes in load, and can operate on a variety of fuels. 

Fuel cell technology is emerging as a valid option to provide on-demand power on microgrids. Fuel cells can run on natural gas, hydrogen and other less common fuels. Although their cost remains too high to be widely used, hydrogen fuel cells are seen as a potential source of small-scale CO2-free electricity.

Typical components of an island microgrid
Click the image to take a closer look at microgrid components

Intermittent energy resources within microgrids

The cost of solar panels has become so low that, in some regions, their installation on homes and businesses is a no-brainer. University campuses, industrial facilities and others equipped with a microgrid can install solar arrays in large numbers, thus achieving significant savings on their energy bills. In fact, many build a microgrid specifically to be able to better integrate and take advantage of their solar resources. 

Energy storage within microgrids

Many homeowners sometimes choose to supplement their home photovoltaic installation with a battery pack. Likewise, many microgrid owners incorporate battery energy storage in their system. With the price of lithium-ion batteries at an all-time low, the benefits of adding an energy storage resource often justify the additional cost. 

For one, battery energy storage systems provide a service known as “time-shifting”. Time-shifting batteries collect extra electricity from an oversized solar system during the day, and then discharge the battery after the sun has set to meet overnight load demands. Similarly, batteries can be discharged at times when the solar array output does not match the load requirements such as short periods of peak demand. This allows the owner to maximize the use of intermittent resources.

Another benefit of battery systems is their ability to instantly respond to changes in electricity demand on the microgrid. Having a battery serve as standby capacity is often much more cost-effective than idling an extra generator 24/7 in case demand increases unexpectedly. Think of energy storage as the fat on the microgrid where energy is stored.

Load management within microgrids

Some microgrid owners have the option to actively manage electricity demand in the same way that they manage electricity generation. 

By default, when a large electric machine starts up somewhere on the microgrid, the generators supplying the microgrid need to quickly ramp up to meet the additional demand. Microgrids that actively manage demand have another option. They can decrease demand somewhere else on the microgrid, for example by switching off a building’s AC temporarily. The result is that demand and generation are again balanced out without increasing generation.

Control and communications within microgrids

Microgrids need a brain and a nervous system to operate safely and effectively, thus needing to possess sophisticated microgrid control systems

Wide-area utility grids serve millions of consumers and have a considerable amount of inertia, limiting the potential for fast, uncontrolled changes. Microgrids, in contrast, include fewer loads and resources and are more sensitive to variations in load and generation. Starting up several large electrical machines without the assurance that an equivalent amount of generation is available is a sure way to crash the microgrid. 

A microgrid’s control system typically includes multiple controllers and sensors distributed over its territory. A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system is also required to collect data and distribute instructions. 

If the SCADA system is the nervous system of the microgrid, then the energy management software is the brain; that software can be highly sophisticated. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-learning features allow modern energy management software to learn to better anticipate load from the consumers on the microgrid and generation from renewable assets, to optimize the system to run in the most cost-effective way. Maximizing the use of renewable resources, minimizing fossil fuel costs and maintaining the reliability of the equipment and the microgrid, all while dispatching the load, is all taken care of by the energy management software, within the parameters specified by the owner of the microgrid.

Switchgears, inverters and other equipment

Finally, microgrids include other critical components such as electrical cables, circuit breakers, transformers and more. These components are the bones, muscles and blood vessels of a microgrid. They connect generation resources to consumers, and allow the microgrid’s control system to effect changes to the state of the microgrid.

Automatic transfer switches, for instance, isolate different generation assets to ensure that, for example, the AC inverter associated with a solar array does not feed electricity to a diesel generator. Inverters convert the DC power supplied by batteries or by solar panels to AC power that is adequately synchronized to other AC resources on the microgrid. 

Interested in more on microgrids? You might also like: 

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Aytek Yuksel - Cummins Inc

Aytek Yuksel

Aytek Yuksel is the Content Marketing Leader for Cummins Inc., with a focus on Power Systems markets. Aytek joined the Company in 2008. Since then, he has worked in several marketing roles and now brings you the learnings from our key markets ranging from industrial to residential markets. Aytek lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two kids.

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