Electrical safety during a flood
AFTER A FLOOD, it’s human nature to want to quickly assess the damage to your home, save belongings and start cleaning up. But this instinct shouldn’t drown out the rule of “electricity and water don’t mix.”
If water has risen above or comes into contact with electrical outlets, baseboard heaters or other electrical systems, do not go into the water. You can be shocked or killed. Not only can electricity travel through water, it can shock you through a wet floor.
Returning after a flood
Safety agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, advise that if you’ve had to evacuate, do not enter a flooded area until a first responder or other authority has determined it’s safe to do so. If your home has been flooded, keep the power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. Don’t use or plug in appliances until the electrician has inspected them.
When cleaning up, make sure your wet/dry vacuum is plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. Look for power strips that have GFCIs to use during cleanup. Don’t let power cord connections become wet.
Don’t touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse if your hands are wet or if you are standing on a wet surface. When resetting breakers, use a dry plastic- or rubber-insulated tool. Use only one hand.
What to replace or repair
Many wet appliances should be replaced. Electrical wiring also may need to be replaced.
Throw away breakers, fuses, disconnect switches, GFCIs, arc fault circuit interrupters and surge protection devices if they have been submerged.
Just because you can’t see any damage doesn’t mean there is none. A licensed electrical contractor should make that determination. Never just allow the equipment or wiring to “dry out” and attempt to power it up later.
Prepare for flooding
If you live in a flood-prone area:
- Keep an emergency kit of batteries, flashlight, medications, etc., on hand.
- Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies.
- If your basement requires a sump pump, install a backup pump that uses a battery and sounds an alarm in case the main pump fails or the electricity is out for an extended time during the storm.
If flooding is forecast or imminent:
If there is time, move electrical appliances and devices out of your home or to an area in the house above the expected level of flood water.
Follow any directives to turn off utilities. To switch off the main power to your home, flip each breaker off first, and THEN turn off the main breaker. You may also need to shut off the valve for your home’s gas and water.
RANDY MEREDITH is the Director of Safety and Training for Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.