Electrical hazards multiply for workers involved in cleanup and recovery efforts following major disasters and weather emergencies. Life-threatening danger exists around downed and low-hanging electrical wires which can still be energized following a storm.

Keep Away From Downed Power Lines Always consider ALL electrical equipment, lines and conductors to be energized. If you notice downed wires or damaged electrical equipment, contact appropriate utility personnel if you can. Circuits do not always turn off when a power line falls into a tree or onto the ground. Re-Closers automatically try to reset circuits and restore power when it is interrupted. Even if electric lines are not sparking or humming, fallen electric lines can electrocute you if you touch them or the ground nearby. Keep a safe distance and immediately call 911 or the PUD Outage Hotline at 360 537 371 or 888 542 5923.

Energy Downed wires can energize other nearby objects, such as fences, water pipes, bushes and trees, buildings, and telephone/CATV/fiber optic cables. Even manhole castings and reinforcement bars (rebar) in pavement can become energized by downed wires. During storms, wind-blown objects such as canopies, aluminum roofs, siding, and sheds can also be energized by downed wires.

Backfeed The improper connection of portable generators to a building’s electrical system is one way hazardous backfeed conditions are created! Backfeed is a hazardous condition created when temporary sources of electricity such as a generator are connected to the damaged permanent system causing electricity to flow inside and outside a structure through connected lines and equipment. In emergency conditions, portable generators should only be used as standalone sources of power, and (except for properly wired by-pass or isolation connections) not connected to a building’s electrical system. If a generator is connected to a building’s electrical system, it must be done with a properly installed main breaker bypass to prevent electricity from flowing out of the building and into downed power lines. This could possibly injure the utility workers in the field making repairs to the power lines.

Some other sources of backfeed include:

  • Circuit ties/switch points
  • Lightning
  • Downstream events

Always ensure that proper lockout procedures are followed to avoid connecting two electrical sources to the same circuit.

The Dangers of Running a Generator in an Enclosed Space

With ANY item which runs on gas, there are always some dangers involved. For a generator, there are a variety of precautions you need to take to safeguard you and your loved ones against the thing which should be providing you relief.

One of the leading hazards of a gas-powered generator are the emissions produced while it is running. This means your generator, while in use, cannot be located in some obviously poor choices, like a crawl space or a shed.

In fact, a majority of the areas within your living space are not recommended to house a running generator due to a lack of ventilation. This includes the garage.

A gas-powered generator can emit enough carbon monoxide, where if it is in an enclosed space, can kill a human within five minutes of exposure.

When you power on your generator, you should always have a carbon monoxide alarm or meter next to it. This way, you can tell pretty quickly if the levels are escalating and can take the appropriate action of turning it off and finding somewhere else to run it.

Rules to Live By

  • Do not assume that a downed power line is safe simply because it is on the ground or it is not sparking.
  • Do not assume that any wire is a harmless telephone, television, or fiber-optic cable, and does not carry lethal current, because they are very similar in appearance. Treat everything electrical as energized until tested and proven to be de-energized.
  • Never go near a downed or fallen electric power line. Keep a safe distance and immediately call 911 or the PUD Outage Hotline at 360 537 371 or 888 542 5923.
  • Electricity can spread outward through the ground in a circular shape from the point of contact. As you move away from the center, large differences in voltages can be created.
  • Never drive over downed power lines. Assume that they are energized.
  • If contact is made with an energized power line while you are in a vehicle, remain calm and do not get out unless the vehicle is on fire. If possible, call for help.
  • If you must exit any equipment because of fire or other safety reasons, try to jump completely clear, making sure that you do not touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Land with both feet together and shuffle away in small steps to minimize the path of electric current and avoid electrical shock. Be careful to maintain your balance.