Spring can bring tornadoes, wet snow and high winds. Any of these weather conditions can result in an extremely dangerous situation—downed power lines. The electricity in power lines always takes the quickest path to the ground, and if that happens to be you, every scenario is bad—burns, heart attack, and likely, death. Every year Ambit Energy sees reports and investigations into fallen lines that have electrocuted people.
As a retail energy provider, Ambit doesn’t own the power lines that serve our Customers—transmission lines belong to the electric distribution company. However, we still want you to be safe. So, we’re providing some information about how to protect yourself if you see a power line on the ground.
Don’t go anywhere near a downed power line! Honestly, that’s the only rule you need to follow. But let’s discuss why they’re so dangerous and what to do if you can’t stay far, far away.
You can never tell by looking at a power line on the ground if it is “off.” Sometimes you can tell that it is live because it will spark or even catch dry vegetation on fire. But most often, you won’t see anything happen at all. Treat every downed line like it is still carrying electricity—that’s always the safest assumption. Call the police, fire department or electric distribution company immediately.
Never go near it—even if there’s another person or animal that appears to be injured. Electricity can travel easily through another person to you. Stay at least 30 feet away—that’s the same distance as a first down in football, approximately 10 yards. The ground is not a great conductor of electricity, but it can spread out in a circle from the power line. And, as overhead lines are not insulated, the electricity can spread from every part of the line, not just the end. So, stay back and let professionals shut off the power and handle the situation.
Likewise, if a power line is touching a wire or chain link fence, that metal will be electrified. Just stay away. Manhole covers, pipes, other wires, metal roofs, gutters and any other metal objects are good conductors of electricity and are dangerous when in contact with a fallen power line. Metal objects aren’t the only things that will conduct electricity, though—water puddles, trees and bushes, and even buildings can be electrified and hurt you. Just keep your distance in every situation until the power company has cleared the line. And, never ever drive over a power line or through water near a downed power line—electricity can travel through your car.
People have also found themselves in a situation where a power line is touching their vehicle—usually, that’s a worker in heavy equipment who has snagged a line in the air. However, lines can fall on vehicles because they often are run along roadways and alleyways.
If you’re in your car, and a live power line touches it, stay in the car. The rubber in your tires will insulate the car from the ground, which will keep the non-metal parts of your car from conducting electricity. If a part of the line is touching the ground and also the metal body of your car, it will be electrified—and touching it can injure or kill you. Use your cell phone to call 911 right away. Don’t touch metal. If you don’t have a phone, honk the horn to try to get attention—but don’t let people come close. Make them call 911.
Remember, the best, safest practice is to stay far, far away from a downed power line and call 911. Don’t try to be a hero or deal with it yourself. The danger is too great.