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June 2011 How To Survive!

Posted in Features on June 1, 2011
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Electrical hazards can be anywherein the sky, in the wall, around your Jeep, in that horrible hairstyle where your hair stands on end. For this month’s survival topic, we’re going to focus on electricity: tips to stay safe should you be caught driving in an electrical storm or if you come across a downed power line, as well as what not to do in the garage.

First off: Metal and humans are both good conductors of electricity. Wait, we are? Anything that has enough water in it will conduct, explained Todd Segal, general contractor with Artisan Services. I mean, even a hot dog conducts.

You probably know that most lightning is caused by thunderstorms. You probably don’t know that the lightning/electrical-storm capital iscome on down, Florida!

And just in case it’s on the quiz, what exactly is lightning? Lightning is a form of visible electrical discharge produced by thunderstorms, explained Curt Kaplan, meteorologist with National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service. Lightning discharges can be cloud to ground, cloud to cloud, and cloud to air. Lightning appears to be very bright because its optical output is equivalent to approximately 100 million light bulbs going on and off. It’s the result of the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas.

Hey, at least lightning can’t strike twice! Never mind: Lightning can strike twice in the same location, Kaplan said. Generally the tallest buildings in big cities get hit several times a year.

But we’re safe inside our Jeeps during an electrical storm, right? Generally, as long as you’re not driving a convertible. Rubber tires will supply some shielding; however, the metal body cage on the outside of the vehicle will provide a safe path for the current to flow to the ground, noted NOAA’s Kaplan. You should not be touching any metal items in your vehicle if the vehicle does take a hit.

That part about not touching metal also factors in if a downed power line is on your Jeep while you’re in it. The best thing to do is to stay inside and call 911. But if a fire or other situation requires you to get out, this is the important part: Don’t touch the body of your Jeep and the ground at the same time. Swing the door open, and to avoid temptation, cross your hands at your chest, then put your legs and feet together on the doorsill, and launch yourself out of the vehicle; keep them together as you hop at least 20 feet away. This will feel awkward and look just as silly, but there are no points awarded for beauty and grace here.

If you find your Jeep with a downed power line on it, assume it’s still live/hot/energized and do not touch it. Our local LADWP advised that people should call their DWP to deal with the power line and not move it themselves, and call 911 if someone has an electrical injury. While you’re waiting, LADWP also warned about staying away from the pole as well as from metal fences (like chain-link), because unbeknownst to you, the power line might also be in contact with a section of fence, and if you touch it, you could get electrocuted.

When it comes to the garage, Segal explained that an electrical accident waiting to happen is if there’s standing water or liquid (say, coolant) on the floor. Yeah, you’ll clean that up later, right? If you’re then standing in water and all of the sudden your other hand comes into contact with a power source, your body is then going to be the conduit and then there’s no way to get out of it. That’s rightelectrocution. And while we’re on the subject of your sloppiness, skip the flip-flops while in the garage and go with rubber-sole shoes for protection.

The other problem Segal often sees in his line of work? Overloading an extension cord that’s inadequate for what it’s powering, whether that be tools, welding equipment, or even a space heater. Check the amps on what you’re powering and make sure they match up with your extension-cord rating. So it might be a 14-gauge cord, and it will indicate that it can take up to XX number of amps/watts. The more electricity that’s drawn through the cord, the more the cord will heat up.

That’s bad? Come on, we do it all the time. If being undersized wasn’t dangerous enough, there’s also the fact that the cord could be cracking or starting to fray, including underneath the plastic where you can’t see it. When excessive heat occurs from being overloaded, it may melt the plastic and cause the wires to become exposed, resulting in a short, spark, smoke, or even fireespecially if they come in contact with something else in the garage that’s a conduit. You know, like a hot dog.

And if someone is being electrocuted? Turn off or unplug the electrical source, remove the fuse, or shut off the circuit breakers, if possible. Not possible? Don’t try to pull them free; muscles seize during an electrocution, and if you grab on to help them, you’re likely going to end up in locked contact with them as your own muscles seize. You can kick them out of the way or even shove them, such as with a broom handle (or anything else that doesn’t conduct electricity). And if they’re standing in water, don’t step in it while you’re helping.

We don’t want to get too much into medical info here, but here are some basics: Burns should be rinsed with cool water, such as from a garden hose (they shouldn’t be rubbed in butter, despite what grandma says, and definitely not iced), and covered loosely with sterile dressing. For someone in shock (which can be identified by characteristics such as looking pale or feeling faint), get the person flat on his back and covered with a blanket, then elevate the feet about 6-10 inches above the level of the heart. Shallow breathing or no breathing at all? Use CPRbut get real medical assistance for any of these emergencies or worse.


Artisan Services
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
National Oceanic and Atmosperic Administration

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