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Downed Power Lines

Winter storms and heavy freezing are likely to cause outages throughout the state. It’s not just heavy snowfall and ice forming on power lines that can cause problems either. Excessively high loads from cities that are switching to electric heating puts a lot of demand on the transmission grid. As the power lines that run between houses and cities become burdened with extra demand, they start to physically sag with the load. This isn’t because of physical weight, it’s due to the expansion of the metal. As the aluminum in the wires heats up it expands, bending in the middle which gives it the appearance of being weighed down.

This sagging can get bad enough that the cable touches the ground or, even worse, break free of a power pole and fall to the ground. While the transmission grid is usually able to shut down different transformers to redirect flow and prevent that from happening, it isn’t perfect and weather conditions, sudden cold snaps, and building ice can all make the situation worse. Eventually, a power line will fall somewhere. So what should you do when you come across a downed power line?

If You See a Downed Power Line:

Clear Out

This first step is essential. Life isn’t like in the movies, you won’t see electrical current unless it has to arc through the air. That means current can flow without you being aware. Typical signs like sparks, electrical smell, or even the hum of power coursing through a line can all be absent from a live wire. Avoid water, ice, snow, or any metal objects nearby as well. You are slightly more conductive than the air around you and all it will take is one quick touch to send a jolt of electricity through you and into the ground.

Make the Call

Even if other people are around, call the local utility company to report the downed power line. They are likely already looking for the source of the outage but there’s no guarantee that they’ve found it or that it’s been reported yet. If you don’t know the local utility company, call 911. Downed lines are dangerous and constitute an emergency situation. The 911 operator will be able to route a call to the local utility company to make sure it’s taken care of.

If a Power Line Falls on your Vehicle:

These directions are perfect for if you’re walking or driving along and see a downed power pole or electrical line, but what should you do when a power line snaps and falls on your vehicle?

If you aren’t in the car: stay away and call emergency services.

If you are already in the car and a power line touches your vehicle, stay inside and avoid touching any metal surfaces. The ground around the car may be energized even if your car is fine. Roll down a window and yell for help (be sure that no one approaches the vehicle). Call 911 immediately.

In the event of an emergency where you need to exit the vehicle (a fire starts, for example) here is how to exit the vehicle:

  • Remove loose clothing and anything that can get hung up on the vehicle or obstacles as you exit.
  • Exit the vehicle away from the power line.
  • Keep your hands at your sides as you exit.
  • Jump clear of the vehicle (do not step out onto the ground) making sure to avoid contact with the body of the vehicle.
  • Keep your feet close together and shuffle away. Do not pick up your feet until you are clear.