August 24, 2011, Arlington, VA—With Hurricane Irene making its way steadily toward the United States, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is reminding residents that danger may linger in your home even after the storm has passed.
“As families begin to clean up following a storm or flood, it is important to be aware of potential dangers that result whenever water comes into contact with electricity,” cautions ESFI president Brett Brenner. “Before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance, have a licensed electrician check the house wiring and appliances to make sure they are safe to use.”
ESFI offers the following safety tips to help you weather the storm and its aftermath safely:
Downed Power Lines
Always assume fallen power lines are energized.
- Contact your utility company immediately to report downed power lines.
- Stay at least 10 feet away from a downed power line and anything it may be touching, such as a fence, tree limb or water.
- Never touch a person or object that is in direct or indirect contact with a downed power line. Instead, call 911 immediately.
- Never attempt to move a downed power line – leave it to the professionals. Do not try to move a downed power line with another object. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth that are slightly wet can conduct electricity.
Do not return home until instructed by the appropriate local authorities.
- Return home during daylight hours, especially if power has not been restored.
- Take care when stepping into a flooded area, and be aware that submerged outlets or electrical cords may energize the water, posing a potentially deadly trap.
- If you smell gas, notify emergency authorities immediately. Do not turn on lights, light matches or engage in any activity that could create a spark.
Submerged Electrical Appliances
Electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely dangerous if reenergized without proper reconditioning or replacement.
- Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet until they have been examined by a qualified service repair dealer. Certain equipment will require replacement, while a trained professional may be able to recondition other devices.
- Electrical items, such as circuit breakers, fuses, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), receptacles, plugs and switches, can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard them if they have been submerged.
- Ocean water and salt spray can be particularly damaging to electrical equipment due to the corrosive and conductive nature of the salt water residue.
- Damage to electrical equipment can also result from exposure to flood waters contaminated with chemicals, sewage, oil and other debris.
Portable generators can be a convenient source of temporary power during outages caused by storms, but they can also be dangerous if not used properly.
- Do not operate a portable generator in your home or in any other enclosed or even-partially enclosed area. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly.
- Make sure that there is at least one battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Test it before using your generator.
- Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.
- Always turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety. ESFI proudly sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May, and engages in public education campaigns throughout the year to prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities in the home and the workplace. For more information about ESFI and National Electrical Safety Month, visit www.electrical-safety.org.
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