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What to Do When You See a Downed Power Line [FAQs]

What to Do When You See a Downed Power Line [FAQs]

What should you do and how to stay safe if you see a downed powerline.

Thad Warren
Thad Warren
October 2021
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4 Minutes

After a major storm, you may see power lines that have fallen due to high winds or other dangerous weather conditions. A downed power line is extremely hazardous and still carries a strong electrical current that can cause severe injury or death if you come into contact with it. Here are some frequently asked questions about powerlines and how to keep yourself safe. 

What Should You Do if a Power Line Falls on Your House?

If a powerline falls on your home, the safest option is to remain inside until you can contact your electric company. The electric company will cut the power to your home or street so you can safely exit your home without fear of electrocution. While in your home, don't run any water and avoid touching anything metal. 

If you need to exit your home due to damage or any other reason, leave your house as carefully as possible. Exit as far away from the downed wire as you can. Without lifting your feet, shuffle away from your home to prevent electrocution. If you have the resources, you can also wear rubber-soled shoes to limit the transfer of electricity.

What Are Key Downed Power Line Safety Tips?

After severe weather, it may be your natural inclination to inspect for damage outside. However, you should resist your curiosity and leave powerlines untouched on the ground. If you see a powerline, it's crucial to keep your distance as well. Stay at least 100 feet or the length of two semi-trucks away to avoid a shock. 

You should assume that all power lines are live and dangerous. Even if the cable isn't humming or sparking, it's still a hazard. If you find yourself near a downed power line, keep both feet on the ground and shuffle away to avoid getting shocked. Water is a conductor of electricity and can cause severe injury when mixed with a downed wire. If the wire is near a small puddle, stay as far away as possible to remain safe. 

If the power line sustains damage but remains connected to the utility pole, you should still exercise caution. The line may be loose and could fall several hours later. If you notice a damaged wire, alert your electric company so they can send an expert to repair it. 

What Do You Do if You See a Power Line Sparking?

If you see a power line sparking, you should immediately put as much distance between yourself and the wire as you can. Power lines rarely spark or catch on fire, so use extreme caution if you see this occurrence. Always stay 20 feet or more away from wires and anything they're touching. 

What Do I Do With a Fallen Power Line?

Spotting a fallen wire is often more complicated than you may think. Wires sometimes wrap around a tree or fall into bushes or snow. Before exiting your house, you look up to determine if any cables are missing. If you come across a fallen wire, the best option is to slowly shuffle away and call 911 or your local electric company. Warn others about the fallen wire so they can keep safe as well. 

Who Do I Call For Downed Power Lines?

You have two options for who to call to report a downed power line. The first is your electric company, which will turn off power to your area if they have not already done so. If you see a downed power line in person, you can also call 911. You should only call 911 if you've seen a downed powerline, not if you're assuming a powerline may be down after a storm. 

How Long Do Downed Power Lines Take to Fix?

The timeline for fixing a downed power line varies. If the powerline fell due to extreme weather, the storm may have caused other damage that takes priority over fixing the power line. The cause of the downed powerline, such as a fallen tree, may also lengthen the repair process.

Many electric companies utilize a three-phased approach for repairs:

  1. Assess hazards
  2. Repair damages
  3. Restore power to homes and buildings

How Can You Tell if a Downed Power Line Is Live?

There's no way to tell if a power line is live from just looking at it. Even if the power line isn't actively sparking, always assume that it's carrying electricity. When you see a downed power line, make sure that you don't touch the utility pole or any objects touching the wire. 

Can You Drive Over a Downed Power Line?

If you come across a downed power line while driving, never drive over the line as it could cause the utility pole and other equipment to come crashing down on top of your car. 

If you're in your car and a powerline touches your vehicle, follow these steps to stay safe:

  1. Stay inside your car as the power line may electrify the ground outside.
  2. Honk your horn or yell to those around you to warn them not to approach your vehicle. If you have a phone on hand, use it to call 911 for help. 
  3. Wait until emergency service workers tell you it's safe before exiting your vehicle. 

In the rare case that you're in a car touching a fallen wire on top and a fire starts, remove any loose clothing so it won't snag as you exit the vehicle. Try not to touch the car as you exit, jumping away from the vehicle and landing on both feet. Shuffle and keep your feet as close together as possible until you are a safe distance away from the car and any potential electrical shock. 

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