Life in the United States is better than most people realize. For example, we’ve never suffered a (global) record-breaking electrical emergency. Electrical emergencies have affected hundreds of millions of people in several countries, but our worst was for two weeks in August 2003.
Electrical Emergencies and What To Do
1. Electrical Fires
Sixty-five percent of deaths due to electrical fires in homes are caused by having nonworking or no smoke detectors. Electrical fires can be caused by:
- Arcing faults
- Electrical distribution systems
- Electrical receptacles
You can prevent or at least minimize the risks of electrical fires:
- Create a family evacuation plan and practice it.
- Get a professional home electrical inspection and follow recommendations for improved safety. Ask if AFCI protection is needed.
- Heed warning signs of electrical problems:
- Dim/flickering lights
- Repeated circuit breaker tripping
- Sizzling sounds
- If a light fixture recommends a particular wattage, adhere to that recommendation.
- Install and regularly inspect your home’s smoke detectors.
- Never use extension cords as an electrical solution (and don’t use them at all with air conditioners or heaters).
- Stop overloading outlets. Ask your local electrician about installing additional circuits or outlets.
2. Electrical Shocks
If someone in your home has been electrocuted, turn off the power supply immediately and call 911. After the power supply has been disconnected, unplug appliances that were part of the electrocution.
- If the person is still holding the live wire, you can try to knock the wire away with a non-metal object (baseball bat, broom, etc.)
- Otherwise, don’t touch the person that was shocked/electrocuted. Stay calm and distanced.
3. Fallen Power Lines
Fallen power lines in your area can cause electrical emergencies. If you’re near one:
- Contact your local energy provider immediately.
- Don’t touch anything the line is touching, including trees.
- Stay 40´ away from the downed power line.
4. Power Outages
Power outages are probably the most common electrical emergencies in the U.S. The leading cause of power outages is bad weather. Storms that include high winds, ice, and snow have caused widespread power outages.
Other reasons your community or neighborhood may lose power include:
- Animals – Rodents, snakes, squirrels, and small animals can cause short circuits.
- Demand – As homes get smarter and electronics get larger (see: EVs), we’ll see more high-demand power outages. Extreme heatwaves cold spells lead to higher power demand. Overworked electric cables, transformers, and other electrical components fail.
- Earthquakes – We get minor ’quakes every 5 years or so. The 1887 Sonora Earthquake was our worst. At that time, it is assumed no homes in rural Arizona had electricity. (The Phoenix Light and Fuel Company was formed in 1884.)
- Excavations – Some say the “Call 811” campaign was a failure but it educated everyone to “call before you dig.” Even professional excavators sometimes hit underground electrical cables.
- Lightning – This happens more often than we realize. Over $825 million was paid on more than 100,000 lightning claims in 2016.
- Trees – High winds and untrained tree-trimmers can cause tree limbs to connect with power lines and cause interruptions.
- Vehicles – Car crashes into utility poles are another source of area-wide power outages.
When the power shuts off in your home, first check the circuit breaker. Then check with your neighbors and contact your local power supply company. Some homeowners unplug major appliances and computers and even the main power source at the circuit breaker. When power is restored, turn everything back on.