Don’t add an electrical tragedy to the trauma of a flood

“Electricity and water don’t mix” is a safety rule we’ve all heard. But when flooding occurs in our home, the cautionary voices can be drowned out by the swell of the stress and water. Don’t jump in and add a tragedy to the trauma.

“When there’s flooding, it’s human nature to want to quickly assess the damage and start cleaning up. And if the water’s still rising, we want to save other things from getting wet,” said Jon Elkins, vice president of safety, training and compliance at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “But that old rule about electricity and water holds true whether we’re talking about running water in the tub or two feet of water in the house.”

If water has risen above or come into contact with electrical outlets, baseboard heaters or other electrical systems, do not go into the water, added Elkins. “You can be shocked or killed. Not only can electricity travel through water, it can shock you through a wet floor.”

Here are some things to keep in mind before and after a flood.

Before the flood

If you live in a flood-prone area:

  • Keep an emergency kit of batteries, medications, etc., ready if you must leave immediately, or if services are cut off.
  • Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies.
  • If your basement requires a sump pump, install a backup pump that uses a battery and sounds an alarm in case the main pump fails or the electricity is out for an extended time.

If flooding is forecast or imminent:

  • Move electrical appliances and devices out of your home or to an area in the house above the expected level of flood water.
  • Follow any directives to turn off utilities. To switch off the main power to your home, flip each breaker off first, and THEN turn off the main breaker. You may also need to shut off the main valve for your home’s gas and water.

After a flood

  • If you’ve had to evacuate, do not enter a flooded area until it has been determined safe to do so by a first responder or other authority.
  • Once you return home, do not touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface.
  • If your home experienced flooding, keep the power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
  • Have an electrician inspect electrical appliances that have been wet, and do not turn on or plug in appliances unless an electrician tells you it is safe. Most wet appliances will require replacement.

Sources: Electrical Safety Foundation International, FEMA, Electrical Safety Authority

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