Winter is coming and that means ice storms for most of us. And one thing that is an almost certain during ice storms is down branches, trees and even power lines. Knowing what to do when you are driving home or leaving the home during an ice storm (if you absolutely must), is how to deal with a downed power line.
High-voltage power lines, which carry power from plants and transformers to customers, can come crashing down during severe storms. If you are in a car when a pole or line falls, you are much safer remaining inside a grounded vehicle than being on foot. If the wire falls on the car, do not touch anything—wait for help.
Assume that all power lines, whether sparking or not, are live.
Stay far away from downed lines.
Current can travel through any conductive material, and water on the ground can provide a “channel” from the power line to you. An electrical shock can also occur when one comes in contact with the charged particles near a high-voltage line; direct contact is not necessary for electrocution to occur. Never touch a vehicle that has come in contact with a live wire—it may still retain a charge.
Often, power may be restored by automated equipment, causing a “dead” wire to become dangerous. Stay away from downed lines even if you know they are not electric lines—the line could have come in contact with an electric line when it fell, causing the downed line to be “hot.”
In the event that you know no one is coming, if a person comes into contact with a live wire, use a nonconductive material to separate the person from the electrical source. Use a wooden broom handle, a wooden chair, or a dry towel or sheet. Rubber or insulated gloves offer no protection.
Avoid direct contact with the skin of the victim or any conducting material touching it until he or she is disconnected; you may be shocked also. Check the pulse and begin rescue breathing and CPR if necessary.
Never touch a vehicle that has come into contact with a live wire. Even when the wire is removed, it may retain a charge.
What To Do If a Power Line Falls On or Touches Your Car
STAY IN THE CAR. When you are in the car you are not a part of electricity’s path to the ground. Wait in the car until qualified electrical workers turn the power off and tell you it is safe to leave the vehicle. If people come near the car to help you, warn them to stay far away. Ask them to telephone 911 and the local electric utility for help.
If you MUST leave the car because of fire or other danger, JUMP away from the vehicle so no part of you touches the vehicle and ground at the same time. Land with both feet together, then shuffle away. Take very small steps and keep your feet in contact with each other and the ground constantly.
Do not try to help someone else from the car while you are standing on the ground. If you do, you will become a path for electricity and could be hurt or killed!
Once you jump from a car with a power line on it, the danger may not be over. Electricity can spread out through the ground in a circle from any downed line. The voltage drops as you move away from the point of contact. If one part of your body touches a high-voltage zone while another part of your body touches a low-voltage zone, you will become a conductor for electricity. This is why you should shuffle away from the line, keeping your feet close together.
Extra Tips and Warnings
Consider all wires ENERGIZED and dangerous. Even lines that are de-energized could become energized at any time. Observe the minimum approach distance of 10 feet. A live wire touching the ground can cause electricity to travel through the ground, radiating outward from the contact point. STAY CLEAR!
DO NOT attempt to remove a tree limb or other object from a power line. Electricity can travel through limbs, especially when they are wet. When cleaning up after the storm, make absolutely sure that no power lines are near before cutting or trimming damaged trees and removing debris from your property.
If a broken power line should fall on your vehicle, stay inside the vehicle. Use your cell phone to call for help. The vehicle can become energized; you are safer remaining inside until help arrives. Metal objects like fences and guardrails can also become energized if a downed power line contacts them. Warn others not to approach or touch the vehicle, and have them call for help.
If you MUST get out of the vehicle because of fire or other life-threatening hazards, jump clear of the vehicle so that you do not touch any part of it and the ground at the same time. Jump as far as possible away from the vehicle with both feet landing on the ground at the same time. Once you clear the vehicle, shuffle away, with both feet on the ground, or hop away, with both feet landing on the ground at the same time. Do not run away from the vehicle as the electricity forms rings of different voltages. Running may cause your legs to “bridge” current from a higher ring to a lower voltage ring. This could result in a shock. Get a safe distance away.
If someone makes contact with a downed power line, don’t try to rescue them because you risk becoming a victim yourself. Call 911 for help.