Each season of the year brings different challenges for homeowners to face. Some of the most common in our area are provided by summer rainstorms. Thunderstorms can be especially dangerous to humans and pets and may cause significant property damage. Rainstorms may result in the loss of electric power to homes and the associated dangers of flooding, fallen trees, tree limbs and live wires. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to take steps to avoid or minimize the damaging effects of these storms.
When a storm is imminent, listen for information on local television, radio stations and weather channels. If someone in your home relies on electrically operated support equipment, then make sure that you have previously notified your local power company. When the power goes out, you will need to know the phone number of your electric company so that you can report the outage. Program this number into your telephone. Note that you may also be able to text a message to the power company.
Prepare in advance of the storm by taking some commonsense measures: Charge your cell phone and provide fresh batteries for flashlights and battery-powered radios and televisions. Battery backup systems can be used to prevent loss of computer data. To provide water for flushing toilets and for washing, fill your bathtub with water. Fill bottles with drinking water. Make sure that you can manually open your garage door.
Because roads may be blocked by flooding, fallen trees, tree limbs and wires, you may not be able to exit your premises. Therefore, have a first aid kit and non-perishable food at home. If you can exit the premises then always have possible escape routes in mind, convey this information to your family and practice evacuation routines.
Outside the house, secure shutters, outdoor furniture, and other movable objects. Move them indoors, if possible. If you do lose power, then observe the following safety precautions: Always assume that downed power lines are live and dangerous, so do not go near them, do not touch them, do not drive over them and do not touch any object that may be touching these wires. Do not walk, run or drive under a low hanging wire. Do not drive into flooded areas.
During the storm, inside the house, use flashlights instead of candles in order to avoid starting a fire. Turn off light switches and unplug appliances but leave only one lamp or radio turned on so that when the light or radio becomes operational again you will know that power has been restored. Then, plug in your appliances, one by one.
If you are fortunate enough to have a portable generator, then carefully follow the generator’s safety instructions. To guard against carbon monoxide poisoning, operate the generator outside the house in a well-ventilated area and only plug individual appliances into the generator, using outdoor-rated cords with a wire gauge that is sufficient for the load. Have a licensed electrician install a manual transfer switch to the generator in order to prevent damage to your generator, appliances and wiring, and to protect the electric company’s employees from back-feed into the company’s lines when power is restored. This transfer switch also provides a necessary connection to hardwired equipment such as a furnace and sump pump. Never, ever, plug a generator into a wall outlet.
Keep extra ice packs and/or bottles of frozen water in your freezer to lengthen the time that frozen food can stay fresh; throw out spoiled food. (The Department of Homeland Security advises that you throw out thawed and refrigerated foods after four hours.) If possible, transport your food to the house of a friend or relative who has electric power and refrigerator/freezer space.
Thunderstorms provide additional hazards. The Department of Homeland Security advises that at the first hint of a storm you should seek safe shelter in a house or other substantial building that “contains a mechanism for conducting electrical current from point of contact to the ground.” Avoid unsafe shelter (such as a small open shelter on a golf course) that is not specifically designed to protect against the effects of lightning. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from rainfall, so if you cannot reach a completely enclosed building then seek shelter in a hard-topped all-metal vehicle.
Remember that if the time between when you see a lightning flash and when you hear thunder is less than 30 seconds, then the lightning is close enough to hit you. After the final lightning flash, wait for 30 minutes before leaving your shelter.
Lightning hits the highest object, so if there are no safe shelters then get below the treeline. Stay low if you are in an exposed area; stay away from trees, crouch low, stay twice as far away from a tree as it is tall. Don’t lean against vehicles, get out of the water; if you are in a boat then stay in the center away from metal fittings, and don’t stand in puddles of water. Do not have any contact with metal.
Inside your home, do not touch corded phones; windows, doors and porches can also provide a path for a lightning strike to enter your home so stay away from them as well as away from electrical equipment and cords (unplug electrical equipment well in advance of the storm). Do not have contact with plumbing: no handwashing, showering, dishwashing or doing the laundry. Don’t touch concrete walls that may contain metal reinforcing bars.
Don’t forget your pets! Bring them in before the storm strikes.
Should your electrical equipment be damaged, a licensed electrician must repair the part(s) of the electrical system for which you are responsible: the meter pan, the entrance cable, the drip loop, the weather-head and the service bracket. After the repairs are completed, your municipality will provide an authorized inspector to certify that the repairs are satisfactory; then, your power can be restored by the electric company.
By Vivian J. Oleen
Sopher Realty and the Department of Homeland Security wish you a safe and enjoyable summer!