May is National Electrical Safety Month and the theme this year is “Electrical Safety During Natural Disasters.” While this event is sponsored by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), still so much of what we do here at NFPA is closely aligned with the mission of this campaign. We aim every day to keep everyone safe from electrical hazards during a natural disaster and all other times of the year.
Electrical safety during a natural disaster is often the last thing on the mind of those who are watching their entire lives floating away in flood waters. Often in this situation emotions are on high and the concern is with preserving and saving items within a home that represent far more than just physical objects. Think about how many items you might have in storage that hold a sort of sentimental value. Items that if lost in a flood would be devastating to give up. Personally, I can think of a few boxes that live in my basement that are 100% irreplaceable.
But what would I do if I suddenly found my basement full of water from a storm? Would I attempt to rescue the precious memories stored within those boxes? Are there any dangers to attempting such a daring rescue? Unfortunately, I would have to ride this one out. During a flood, there are often times where water will rise to above the receptacle height and can become energized. Combined with the fact that underneath this watery intruder lays numerous paths that provide a way for current to get back to the source. Flooded basements can often become a potential killer.
Entering flood waters in a basement for any reason can be fatal, but there are a few precautions that you can take to ensure that you don’t find yourself wading through water that you might never return from.
First, if you know the possibility of a flood exists or that an upcoming storm presents strong wind and lightning potential, it is a good idea to turn off all non-essential circuits. However, making the call on what is considered “essential” or not can be tough if you don’t know the ins and outs of how your house is wired. Therefore, many recommend turning off the main disconnect to the home to prevent damage to the wiring system that might occur due to line surges and high voltage crossovers. This also de-energizes any equipment that could lead to an electrical hazard if flooding occurs. If there is a back-up generator installed for the home, turning it off as well can help prevent electrified flood waters.
Second, if at all possible, move precious or important items to “higher ground.” If you know that a big storm is coming and the possibility of a flooded home is real, move your important items to an upper level of the home. This way you are not tempted to forge your way through potentially hazardous flood waters to save your things. In past flood disasters, there have been many instances where folks have been injured due to electrified water; being prepared for this kind of event can keep you from adding to the statistics.
Third, It is also important to ensure that all safety devices such as GFCI and surge protective devices are in good working order. The manufacturers of these items will spell out how to test and maintain this equipment. Keep in mind that most manufacturers have recommendations for regular testing and maintenance to make sure these devices will function when needed. So before putting your life on the line or assuming that your home theater is protected by that surge protection device, verify that these devices are in good working order by following the recommended testing procedure.
Lastly, DO NOT re-energize any electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters. It is impossible to know the extent of the damage without having a competent individual such as an electrician or inspector evaluate the equipment prior to turning it back on. Flood waters usually consist of more than just water and even though equipment might be completely dry, there is no telling what else could have been left behind. Often equipment that has been submerged in a flooded home will just need to be replaced. Some equipment might be able to be refurbished, however when you weigh the cost of refurbishing vs replacing, it is usually more cost effective and quicker to replace the damaged item.
These are just some high level items to help keep us all safe this storm season. While many of you are already on NFPA Xchange and regularly consume safety-related content like this, we all have family and friends who might have no idea what to do in a storm to protect their belongings and stay clear from danger zones that can be present after disaster strikes. Please share this blog and additional information that can be found on the NFPA Emergency Preparedness website. Until next time, be safe!