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After Irma: Electrical Safety Guidelines, Disaster Response from Electrical Contractors

Sep 14, 2017

Here are 8 precautions that homeowners and building managers can take to facilitate power restoration efforts and keep their own property safe. All recommendations conform with the specifications of the National Electrical Code. Please note, these guidelines are non-inclusive; the additional resources listed at the end of the article include links to more detailed instructions:

1. All electrical wiring, appliances and motors damaged by floodwater should be checked by an electrician or electrical contractor before any attempt is made to start them. Motors damaged by moisture and dirt can be burned out by careless starting, and damaged or damp wiring will cause failures in circuits and systems.

2. No one should attempt to work on wiring, especially when it is wet, without turning off the main switch for the building. Stand on a dry board even though the switch is in the open position when working on the service entrance equipment. This protects the property from additional hazard while waiting for an electrical contractor.

3. Where immediate use of electric power is essential, dry temporary lines may be run for some equipment, such as pumps. Consult a qualified electrical contractor or inspector before connecting temporary equipment.

4. Wiring that has become wet or damaged during a disaster cannot be safely reused, even it appears to have completely dried or reusable. It must be replaced. Identify any wiring that was under water or dampened. If the water did not reach all levels of a building, wiring that was not wet may still be safely used.

5. Any electrical equipment, such as switches, receptacles (convenience outlets), light outlets and junction boxes, that has been under water must be replaced. They cannot be safely reused.

6. If a junction box is filled with mud, remove the screws holding the receptacle or switch in the box. Pull the receptacle, switch and wires in the junction boxes out about two inches from the box. Clean out the mud and dirt. Do not remove the electrical connections. Leave the boxes open until a qualified electrical contractor, electrician and/or inspector can examine it.

7. Remove fuses and the cover from the entrance panel. Clean out any mud. Wires can be moved, but do not disconnect them.

8. Large electrical appliances that have been under water should be examined by an electrician or an electric serviceperson. Amateur attempts at cleaning and drying appliances can frequently do more harm than good.

When in doubt about the safety of an electrical system, building owners and facility managers are strongly advised to contact their local building safety department to inspect water-damaged electrical equipment and wiring. Johnston also advised owners to contact their local NECA chapter to find a contractor familiar with the hazards of post-flood electrical construction and repair, or to go to NECAConnection.com, NECA’s online search engine for electrical contractors.

“Most electrical contractors are small business owners, and we’re already hearing stories of NECA members in flood-affected areas who are scrambling to borrow equipment from out-of-state colleagues so they can get to work in their own communities,” Johnston said. “Electricity is what connects us, and when that connection is severed, it affects everything in our lives.”

To speak with a NECA expert about electrical safety during a disaster or emergency power restoration, contact NECA.