Guest Post: Negotiating Downed Power Lines and Victims

With the recent slew of storms the nation’s been seeing, I thought it prudent to be prepared not only for the storms themselves but for the aftermath.  Downed power lines are thus far only things I’ve seen on the silver screen, but it never hurts to be prepared for real life situations.

If you encounter a downed power line:

  1. Assume every downed power line is live and keep your distance.
  2. Power lines don’t have to spark to be live. Power can be restored automatically for however short a time and may recharge a “dead” wire.  Even non-electric lines may have come into contact with a power line on its way down.  Don’t risk it; don’t touch it.
  3. Remember your conductive materials: almost all metals, all aqueous solutions, etc.  Even a puddle of water on the ground can conduct electricity from the line to you.  Direct contact isn’t necessary to receive shock, and you can get shocked by touching a charged particle near the line.  For instance, a car that has come into contact with a live wire may still carry a charge.  (The message here is don’t touch anything.)
  4. Non-conductors include air, wood, rubber, plastic, and some minerals.

If you see someone who’s been electrocuted:

  1. Call for help.
  2. Find something made of wood.  Even though rubber is not a conductor, rubber or insulated gloves will not offer enough protection against something with so much charge.  Instead, use a wooden broom handle, a wooden chair, or a dry towel or sheet.  Be sure it does not get wet.
  3. Do not make direct contact with the victim’s skin or conducting material touching said victim.  Do this only after the individual has been disconnected, or you will experience the same shock.
  4. When the victim is disconnected, check for a pulse by using your fingers (not your thumb) on the side of the neck between the windpipe and neck muscle, pressing lightly.  Alternatively, check for a pulse on the inside of the wrist by placing the pads of three fingers below the wrist creases at the base of the victim’s thumb.  Press lightly; move around until you feel the victim’s pulse.
  5. If the victim is still not breathing, begin CPR.  Push down in the center of the chest 2 inches 30 times, pumping at least 100 times per minute (faster than once per second).  Tilt the victim’s head back and lift the chin.  Pinch the victim’s nose and cover the mouth with yours.  Blow until you see the chest rise.  Give two breaths, each lasting 1 second.  Continue with 30 pumps and 2 breaths until help arrives.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and researcher for College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching vocational school scholarships as well as vocational student loans. Whenever she gets some free time, she enjoys watching a funny movie or curling up with a good book.


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  1. The power company came out to where I work and did an information session for us on this issue. They said that a downed power line can electrocute someone through the ground for several feet from where the line hits the ground. They also showed us some pictures of people that learned the hard way that I wish I could forget.

  2. This is all good advise. I am sure that down in the southern states right now that this is a huge problem for a lot of residents. It is better to just stay away from power lines if they are down. Don’t get out of the car if one falls on your vehicle.

  3. I’ve been a firefighter for a day or two, and have seen my share of downed power lines. I must take exception to a couple of your points.

    1. If a person has come in contact with a power line (it’s on them, they’re next to it, etc.) there is nothing you can do without greatly increasing your chances of dying right there. I ride on the big red truck with all the gear and equipment, and we still wait for the utility company in a situation like that. Electricity is a very, very unpredictable adversary in that situation. Without going into too much detail about waveforms, amps, volts, etc., you don’t have to touch a downed powerline, you just have to get close for it to get you, even on dry ground.

    2. Compression-only CPR is being shown to work much better than 30:2, as it’s less time the blood is not circulating to major organs (i.e. the brain). AHA has recently changed their protocols.

    Don’t mean to be a wet blanket, I just don’t want you to get hurt, especially trying to help someone.

  4. Thanks much for these tips! This post is going into my prep folder since I probably won’t have enough sence to remember off hand all of these tips should something go down and I see someone being harmed via electricity.

  5. “Do not make direct contact with the victim’s skin or conducting material touching said victim”

    During Houston’s big flood in 2001, a mother and son were picking up their stuff out of their flooded house. The boy picked up their tv and was electrocuted. His mother rushed to help her son and was also electrocuted.

    So even though it’s inconvenient, turn off power at the source once water starts to enter a building. Since my breaker box is on the outside, I have to put on my rubber boots, then use a wooden spoon to turn off power.

    “Assume every downed power line is live and keep your distance.”

    How far is safe in flooded waters?

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