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Stay InformedDowned Power Lines

The Hazards of Fallen Power Lines

You cannot tell if a downed power line is energized just by looking at it. There may be no sparks or movement. Even if the line is not live one moment, automatic switching equipment may restore power to the line without warning. The protective covering on a power line is not insulation; it only protects the line from the weather. It won’t protect you from electrical contact. The electricity in a power line always seeks a path to the ground. When a live wire touches the ground, electricity fans out in a pool, similar to when a pebble hits water, with the voltage decreasing as it travels from the center. This path might include a tree, a vehicle, a power pole, a water-filled ditch, or a fence. These objects then become energized. If you touch an energized power line or an object that is in the electricity’s path to ground, the electricity can flow through your body, causing serious injury or death. Even approaching a fallen power line is dangerous because high-voltage electricity can jump the air gap between the line and you and then flow through your body. Keep away from power lines and any object that is in contact with a power line.

What should I do if I encounter a downed power line?

If you see a downed power line, call 911 and inform the operator that it is an electrical emergency. Move at least 10 feet away from the line and anything touching it, including puddles of water and fences. A power line that touches the ground can shock or kill you even if you do not touch it. The human body is a ready conductor of electricity – the electrical current can travel through the ground and into your body. The proper way to move away from the line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times.  This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.  Electricity wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone—and it could do that through your body.

What can I do to help someone who has come in contact with a downed power line?

If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim.  Call 911 instead.

Can I use something that is not metal to try to move a downed power line myself?

Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything in contact with the line by using another object such as a broom or stick.  Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth, if slightly wet, can conduct electricity and then electrocute you.

What should I do if I see a downed power line in the street while I am driving my car?

Do not drive over downed power lines.

What if a power line comes down onto my car or I didn’t see it until I’ve driven into it?

If you are in your car and it is in contact with the downed line, stay in your car. Tell others to stay away from your vehicle. If you must leave your car because it’s on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with the live car and the ground at the same time. This way you avoid being the path of electricity from the car to the earth.  Do not run.  Shuffle or hop away, keeping your feet together. Separating your feet can create two contact points with the ground and can result in a shock if the ground is energized by a fallen wire.

Is a downed power line still dangerous if it has come down in water, like a pool or pond?

Water is a good conductor of electricity.  Any amount of water – even a puddle – could become energized. Be careful not to touch water – or anything in contact with the water – near where there is a downed power line.

For more electrical safety information, visit Southern California Edison.