Tropical Storm Cindy, Electrical Safety

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Tropical Storm Cindy is churning slowly toward the Gulf Coast, where millions of residents are expecting heavy rain and potential flash flooding.

At least 17 million people are under a tropical storm warning from San Luis Pass, Texas, to the Alabama-Florida border. 

Severe storms and natural disasters can cause a variety of electrical safety hazards in and around our homes. Lightning, downed power lines, and floods are just a few of the serious safety concerns associated with storms. Unfortunately, many of these electrical safety hazards remain long after the storm itself has passed, via remc.com.

Power Lines

What should I do if I encounter a downed power line?

If you see a downed power line, move at least 10 feet away from the line and anything touching it. The human body is a ready conductor of electricity.

The proper way to move away from the line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock. Electricity wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone—and it could do that through your body.

What can I do to help someone who has come in contact with a downed power line?

If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 instead.

Can I use something that is not metal to try to move a downed power line myself?

Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything in contact with the line by using another object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth, if slightly wet, can conduct electricity and then electrocute you.

What should I do if I see a downed power line in the street while I am driving my car?

Do not drive over downed power lines.

What if a power line comes down onto my car or I didn’t see it until I’ve driven into it?

If you are in your car and it is in contact with the downed line, stay in your car. Tell others to stay away from your vehicle.

If you must leave your car because it’s on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with the live car and the ground at the same time. This way you avoid being the path of electricity from the car to the earth. Shuffle away from the car.

Is a downed power line still dangerous if it has come down in water, like a pool or pond?

Water is a good conductor of electricity. Any amount of water—even a puddle—could become energized. Be careful not to touch water—or anything in contact with the water—near where there is a downed power line.

Wet Electrical Equipment

My home wasn’t flooded, but some electrical appliances have gotten wet. Do the same safety rules listed above apply to my situation?

Yes—they still apply. Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet until they have been examined by a qualified service repair dealer. Water can damage the motors in electrical appliances, such as furnaces, freezers, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers.

Where can I find out more about what should be done with water damaged electrical equipment?

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has produced a brochure, Guidelines for Handling Water Damaged Electrical Equipment, for use by suppliers, installers, inspectors, and users of electrical products to provide advice on the safe handling of electrical equipment that has been exposed to water. The NEMA brochure may be downloaded free of charge at : www.nema.org/stds/water-damaged.cfm.

Portable Generators

I bought a new generator so that I’d be prepared for the next power outage. Is there anything special I should know about installing it?

ESFI strongly recommends that a licensed electrician install home generators to ensure they meet all local electrical codes.

Also, make sure your generator is properly grounded in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Can’t I just plug my generator directly into one of my home’s outlets?

Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.

What could happen if I don’t have a transfer switch installed?

Without the proper transfer switch, power provided by the generator can “ backfeed ” along the power lines, creating a significant electrocution hazard for anyone coming in contact with the lines, including lineworkers making necessary repairs.

Can I run it in my garage to protect it from the rain?

Never operate a generator inside your home or in any other enclosed—or even partially enclosed—area. Generators very quickly produce carbon monoxide, which can easily enter your home.

Place the generator on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Do not operate the generator in wet conditions or where there is standing water.

Can’t I just open the garage door to provide ventilation for the carbon monoxide?

Opening windows or doors or using fans does not provide adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide. Generators must be located outside a safe distance away from your home’s windows, doors, and vents, through which carbon monoxide can enter your home.

How far away from the house is a safe distance?

Preliminary research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) indicates that even 15 feet from the home is too close to operate a generator safely.

Remember your neighbors, too. Keep your generator a safe distance away from their homes as well.

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