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The Misconceptions: Extreme Weather and Electricity

Taylor Murray
Division Safety Manager
Danella Construction Corp of PA

Previously published in Vol 1.3, Summer 2017 issue of Danella Pride.

 

Having had the opportunity to experience weather-related damages from Florida to Illinois to Maine, one observation is apparent: the level of knowledge and awareness of what to do when storm-related issues occur varies. According to the National Weather Service, in 2016, there were 452 people killed due to weather-related issues, such as flooding, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wind. A dangerous situation associated with storm-related occurrences is power outages.

There are many myths about electricity that need to be debunked.

The first myth is that all power lines are insulated. 90% of outside power lines are not insulated; many just have a weather coating on them.
The second myth is that only high voltage is dangerous. Voltage is the pressure that pushes electricity along, like water through a hose. Amperage (amp), the amount of electricity in any given spot, is what will hurt or kill you. It takes less than one-quarter of an amp to put a heart into ventricular fibrillation (irregular beating).

A third myth is that when a wire falls to the ground, it automatically shuts off. Often when a wire falls to the ground, it falls on materials that are poor conductors like snow, asphalt or ledge. When this happens, the distribution system sees an increased request for electricity. If you see a wire on the ground, STAY AWAY from it and call your local electric utility company. Assume that the wire is live, and avoid the area around it as well as any fences and patio furniture, as they could be carrying the current.

Please take the time to prevent back feeding from generators, by installing a manual transfer switch. This goes a long way to protecting the workers restoring power in your area. Workers attempting to restore power to the neighborhood may unexpectedly encounter high voltage on the utility lines and suffer a fatal shock because of back feeding. If the main breaker is turned off, it alleviates the hazard, but also requires remembering to shut the breaker off, and relies solely on the user to do so.

Keeping Your Family Safe

Not only is keeping electrical workers safe in the event of extreme weather but keeping your family safe is important. The number one thing to do before any storm is to communicate. When you think of storm-related fatalities, many images come to mind of mile-wide tornadoes and category 5 hurricanes. Breaking down the statistics, you would be surprised that in 2016, the combined deaths attributed to tornadoes and hurricanes are less than getting struck by lightning. Having that knowledge, it is important to create a plan with your family on what to do and where to go. Two steps are essential: listening to your local weather service/government agency and following instructions carefully during a state of emergency.

Many times, injuries and deaths happen when people disregard instructions, such as driving through flooded areas or on icy roads. The Red Cross, FEMA, the National Weather Service, and others have great tips for weather disaster planning. Those who are prepared, tend to be safer. By collecting important papers, sharing an emergency communications plan, and practicing or reviewing said plan before a storm hits, you can work towards being safer.