We have seen the devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean and southern U.S. resulting in severe power outages and downed power lines. No matter where you live, you are not immune to encountering downed power lines whether its caused by a tornado, wind gusts, or ice rain.
What should you do?
First and foremost, stay away from them. Warn others and contact 911 or the local electric utility. Even though the line is not sparking or arching, it is possibly still energized.
Do not drive your car over a damaged power line. It can entangle with your car and cause other poles or cables to be dragged down.
If your car is in contact with a power line, stay in your vehicle and wait until the electrical company arrives to de-energize the line and give you the “all clear” signal. If you can safely back your car away, do so. Anyone approaching your car intending to help should be told to stay away. Touching your car can result in serious harm.
Your car tires can possibly start to smoke, however they will insulate you from the electrical danger. In the event you are forced to evacuate your car due to fire, it is recommended to do the following. Carefully jump away from the car without touching both the car and ground at the same time. Jump a minimum 45 to 60 centimetres away from the car. Land with your feet together and hands tightly at your sides. Finally, hop away from the car with both feet together until you’re at least 10 metres away. You need to pay attention to this and this is why.
When a power line falls to the ground, electrical current flows into the ground creating a “pool” of electricity in the immediate area. The voltage is at its peak closest to the power line and diminishes as you get further away. The electrified ground will energize anything it touches. Taking normal walking steps can cause electricity to travel up through one leg and down the other leg while passing through your heart on its path.
Construction vehicles and power lines are not a good mix
Truck drivers need to be aware of the position of their truck boxes and remember to lower them before driving away. Many companies have built in alerts in their trucks to indicate when the box is up. Construction sites have many distractions so it’s easy for drivers to forget their box is raised, drive away, and come in contact with a power line.
The larger rubber tires on trucks and heavy equipment can create another safety risk. High-voltage power lines can cause tires to explode. Excessive heat causes hydrocarbon gases to be released inside the tire, increasing both tire air pressure and temperature. Flammable gases coming in contact with very hot oxygen will ignite and the tire will explode causing injury or death by flying wheel parts.
Are there safety risks with electric cars?
On the subject of electrocution dangers; public concerns are being raised about the safety around electric cars in an accident. An electric car contains several high voltage components (400 V) and First Responders need to be careful when prying or cutting into these cars. They have to be specifically trained to work differently when around a damaged electric car. The high voltage cables are generally well marked; Tesla cables, for example, are orange in color. In addition, Tesla provides an Emergency Response Guide for each of its models describing procedures to be followed. Hybrid cars create another issue since they contain both a high voltage battery and a gasoline fuel tank.
In closing, electricity is an invisible killer. Be safe and be aware of what to do in the event you are faced with a downed power line.