Power lines crisscross our countryside, bringing the benefits of electricity. But storms or accidents can knock them from their perch and put them on the ground or within reach. Just because they’re down doesn’t mean they’re dead.
“Keeping your distance from downed power lines and knowing what to do if you see one are the first steps to safety,” said John Gasstrom, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “There is no way of knowing whether a power line is still live, and if you happen to touch one that is, consequences could be deadly.”
If you see a downed power line, the first step is to move away from it and anything touching it. Keep a distance of 35 feet because the ground around downed power lines may be energized. But if you are in a car, the first step is to stay put.
If power lines fall on the car, the car can become energized. People who are safe inside will remain safe — as long as they stay put. Opening a door and stepping out can kill the person leaving the car. Even if power lines are not on the vehicle, they could be hanging low. Fallen power lines are hard to see against trees and foliage, especially at night. Anyone stepping from a car might walk into an energized line and also be electrocuted.
Here are some other basic tips for safety:
- If you see someone in direct or indirect contact with a downed line, DO NOT touch him or her. Call 911 for assistance.
- NEVER attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it using an object such as a broom or stick.
- If your vehicle comes in contact with a downed power line while you’re in the vehicle, stay inside the car. Call 911 or honk your horn to get help. Tell bystanders to stay away from the vehicle.
- If you must exit the vehicle for life-threatening reasons, such as if the car has caught on fire — jump out and clear from it, making sure to land with your feet together. Make sure you do not touch the car and the ground at the same time. Then, shuffle away with your feet touching until you reach a safe distance.
Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International
Making a safe escape from downed power lines
Electricity is always seeking the quickest path to the ground. If your car comes in contact with a utility pole or fallen power lines, stay in the car. The power line could still be energized and is energizing your car. But like a bird on a wire, you are not a path to ground and will be safe. If you exit the car by stepping out, you can become the path to ground and be electrocuted.
If there is an immediate threat to your safety, exit the vehicle in this way:
- Open the door without touching the metal door frame.
- Jump out and away from the vehicle. Do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time.
- Jump with both feet together so both feet land at the same time.
- Shuffle away with the toe of one foot shuffling forward along the length of the other foot. Both feet should be in constant contact with the ground.
- Keep shuffling 30 or more feet until you are safely away from the car and power line.
- Watch for low hanging power lines or lines on the ground.
- NEVER attempt to get back into a vehicle in contact with a power line.
Avoid downed power lines and stay safe!
You see a downed power line. What do you do? Indiana Electric Cooperatives provides these safety tips.
- Move away from it and anything touching it. Keep a distance of 35 feet.
- Assume ALL downed power lines are live.
- If you see someone in direct or indirect contact with a downed line, DO NOT touch him/her. You could become energized as well. Call 911 for assistance.
- NEVER attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it using an object such as a broom or stick. Non-conductive materials like wood or cloth can conduct electricity if slightly wet.
- Don’t step in water near downed lines.
- Never drive over a downed power line.