Navigate / search

Safe @ Home: After the storm

A crew from Central Alabama EC works to clear trees from a closed section of highway in Houston County in April. Photo by Allison Griffin
A crew from Central Alabama EC works to clear trees from a closed section of highway in Houston County in April. Photo by Allison Griffin

Staying safe around electricity after the storm

By Allison Griffin

When the fierce winds of a major storm begin to die down, line crews from Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives are already in motion, preparing to head out into areas littered with downed trees and power lines to restore power your homes and businesses.

After the storm has passed and the power’s out, it’s tempting to set off in the car and look at damage. But if local law enforcement or elected officials have asked motorists to stay off the roads, there’s a reason.

Michael Kelley, AREA’s director of safety, took me to the Wiregrass Electric Cooperative area in late April after unexpectedly strong storms broke more than 60 power poles and left nearly 13,000 without power in Houston and Geneva counties.

It was gratifying to see the cooperative spirit at work as linemen from other Alabama co-ops came to help the Wiregrass crews, who were working day and night to clear roadways and reset poles.

But sightseers can hamper workers. “We understand that it’s hard for people to get information during a disaster, to find out which roads are closed and which ones are open,” Kelley says. “Still, obeying road closure signs and law enforcement is important for line worker safety.” In general, the safest place to be during times of disaster is at home.

On that April trip, Kelley and I saw several lines that were hanging low across the road, which can be more dangerous than ones on the ground. He says a vehicle with a ladder rack, for example, can grab a low-hanging line and pull a worker off a pole. Or a low-hanging line may still be energized.

Alabama’s “Move Over Act,” which requires motorists to vacate the lane closest to an emergency vehicle or slow to a speed that is less than 15 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit, also applies to utility workers and their vehicles.

Other questions and answers from Kelley:

What if I encounter a downed power line?

• Do not attempt to move a downed line, or anything that is in contact with the line.

• Be aware of where the line is, and always maintain a safe distance away from the wire – at least 10 feet.

• Report a downed line to your local utility. If it’s on fire or sparking, call 911.

• When you call, have a street address available, or in a rural area, either a mailbox number or a mile marker.

What if my car contacts a power pole or a downed line?

• Stay in the vehicle if at all possible and call for help. The only time you should exit the car is if it is on fire, or there’s a danger that it will be engulfed in water.

• If you must leave, jump with both feet together and avoid contact with the car and the ground at the same time, in case the car is “hot.” You do not want to be a path of electricity from the car to the earth. Shuffle away from the car.

Other safety reminders:

Keep a basic disaster supply kit at home. Even if power is restored quickly, hazardous conditions may keep you from leaving your home. A few basics include three days’ worth of non-perishable food and a gallon of water per person per day for three days. Find a complete list at www.ready.gov.

If you have a generator, make sure you have enough gasoline on hand to run it. And make sure it’s properly set up away from the house and garage, and only plug in appliances directly to the generator. Use extension cords that are large enough to carry the electrical load that you will put on the generator.