After a Storm

Downed power lines, gas leaks among hazards to avoid

Posted on Apr 13 2012 in Features
When you’re dealing with the trauma that follows a tornado or serious storm — possible injuries to yourself or loved ones and neighbors, damage to your home and belongings — electrical safety is probably not the first thing on your mind. But before you go outside, step foot into a flooded area or enter a storm-damaged building, your life may depend on thinking about electrical safety. Storms can leave more than damage in their wake — they can leave hidden dangers that can take lives even long after they have passed.

When outside, stay at least 10 feet away from downed power lines and be alert to the possibility that tree limbs or debris may hide an electrical hazard. Treat all downed or hanging power lines as if they are energized. Lines do not have to be arcing or sparking to be live. Warn others to stay away, and contact your local electric cooperative.

Do not attempt to move downed power lines with other objects, and do not touch objects or puddles of water in contact with those lines. Make sure children are aware of these hazards as well.

After a storm, keep in mind:
• If you find yourself too close to a downed power line, shuffle away from it in small steps, with your feet together and touching the ground at all times.
• Don’t enter seriously damaged buildings and avoid using matches and lighters in case of gas leaks. Never attempt to turn off power at the breaker box if you must stand in water to do so.
• If you are driving and come upon a downed power line, stay in your vehicle, warn others to stay away. Never drive over a downed line; it could pull down poles and other items along its path.
• Never step into a flooded basement or other area if water is covering electrical outlets, appliances or cords. Never touch electrical appliances, cords or wires while you are wet or standing in water.
• If you use a portable generator, be sure a transfer safety switch has been installed, or connect appliances directly to the generator. This prevents electricity from traveling back through the home to power lines — what is known as “backfeed.” Backfeed creates danger for anyone near lines, particularly crews working to restore power.

Sources: SafeElectricity, courtesy of NRECA; Electrical Safety Foundation International —