Is that downed power line capable of electrocuting someone? Always assume it is.

To stay safe, steer very clear of any downed electrical wires; treat them as live and energized; beware of nearby objects that may have become electrified; call 9-1-1 and, then, call the power company

Downed power lines are capable of electrocution, treat as live and energized

Michigan just got clobbered last week with a huge wind storm, which uprooted and toppled over many trees.  Over 600,000 people were without electricity because of downed power lines all over the state.  Trees fell everywhere.

And, as those trees fell, they took down many power lines with them.

Old and negligently maintained power distribution infrastructure, such as in older industrial cities like Detroit and Flint, are especially prone to failure from high winds and storms.  And when they fail they can bring down high voltage wires as crossarms, insulator pins, insulator ties, and other poletop hardware fail.

And while hundreds of thousands of people lost power, many, many more were exposed to serious risk of electrocution or electrical shock injury.

Thankfully, the reports of injuries have so far been minimal. Hopefully, it stays that way.

A weather-related event like this presents the following substantial, yet easily underappreciated, threats:

  • People don’t know whether downed power lines – which seem to be everywhere and anywhere – are energized and capable of electrocuting people and/or causing electrical shock injuries.
  • People are unaware of what everyday objects – trees, cars, fences, basketball hoops – have been “energized” due to contact with downed power lines and, thus, pose electrocution risks.

This is a real and serious problem.

But the solution – and the key to staying safe – may be relatively simple.

As the Rocky Mountain Power company’s safety director told The Rexburg Standard Journal in Idaho:

  • “The single most important message to the public in these situations is stay away and call the power company immediately … It’s impossible to tell if a downed power line is still carrying electricity, so stay clear and keep others, including pets, as far away as possible.”
  • “The further away from a downed line the better … It’s just best to treat any downed line as though it were energized. Immediately call 9-1-1 then call the power company.”

As an electrocution lawyer of nearly 40 years, I agree 100%.

Plus, I appreciate the safety director’s explanation of how the danger of a downed power line can so easily – and silently – spread to other objects that most people would never treat as dangerous:

“[E]lectricity, by its very nature, is always seeking a path to the ground. When a line is damaged and falls to the ground, it’s impossible to know if the electricity is flowing through the line. In addition, other objects have the potential to become part of electricity’s path to ground — a tree, a vehicle or a fence, for example.”

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