Navigating the Storm: A Guide for Electrical Safety During Hurricane Season
By Erik Hohengasser, Electrical Technical Lead, NFPA
Hurricane season is a time of heightened alertness for communities in vulnerable areas. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines hurricane season as the period between June 1 and November 30, though hurricanes can occur at any point throughout the year. As a result of climate change, hurricanes have become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. A National Climate Assessment conducted by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions found that, in the United States, extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy downpours, and major hurricanes have increased not only in frequency, but in strength. This makes investment in preparation and recovery efforts more important than ever.
When we see hurricane preparation on the news, we see residences and businesses gearing up to protect their homes and assets against the potential devastation that hurricanes can bring. While physical preparations such as securing belongings, reinforcing structures, and deploying barriers are crucial, another essential aspect often overlooked is electrical safety. Resilient electrical systems are critical in maintaining safety and communication before, during, and after a storm—and failed electrical systems can result in fire, property damage, loss of life, and darkness in an already scary time. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the importance of electrical safety during hurricane season, offering insights into preparation, recovery, and forward-thinking risk mitigation.
Before the Storm: Safeguarding Electrical Systems
Preparation can influence the level of recovery needed after a storm. In the lead-up to an impending hurricane, the focus shifts to fortifying structures and securing the surrounding environment. This includes bringing outdoor belongings inside, boarding up windows to combat strong winds, and using sandbags as barriers to the imminent rush of water. However, it is equally vital to pay special attention to electrical systems to prevent further risks during and after the storm. Some key steps to consider for safeguarding electrical systems before the hurricane hits include:
- Deenergize and evaluate: Prior to the storm’s arrival, deenergize electrical equipment to minimize the risk of electrical hazards caused by water exposure. Additionally, consider elevating critical equipment or relocating it to higher ground to prevent water damage.
- Engage qualified personnel: Establish a plan for engaging both in-house and outsourced personnel who are qualified to handle electrical work. Companies that offer their services for recovery can be contacted and scheduled ahead of time in order to ensure they have certified professionals on-hand and are available when the need arises.
- Develop a site-specific safety plan: Create a comprehensive safety plan that includes standard electrical safety practices, such as lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and application of safety grounds. Additionally, address specific safety concerns arising from the disaster, such as structural damage, air quality, and potential chemical spills.
Navigating Recovery: Sequential Steps for Electrical System Restoration
Once the hurricane has passed and recovery efforts are underway, a strategic approach to restoring electrical systems is essential. However, before electrical systems can be brought back online, it must be verified that restoring power can be done safely and does not pose any additional risks. Annex K of NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, outlines a comprehensive framework for analyzing and repairing electrical systems during disaster recovery. The 11 sequential event phases of the framework are as follows:
- Initial Event: Document the initial impact and scope of damage caused by the hurricane.
- Securing the Facility: Minimize damage by securing windows, doors, and critical electrical equipment.
- Mobilization of Recovery Personnel: Assemble a team of qualified personnel for recovery efforts.
- Developing a Safety Plan: Create a site-specific plan that addresses both standard and disaster-specific safety concerns.
- Temporary and Emergency Power Generation: Manage temporary power sources to reduce shock and arc flash hazards.
- Initial Damage Assessment: Conduct a thorough assessment of equipment and system damage.
- Documentation: Key steps that should be detailed are tagging equipment, labeling wiring, taking pictures and/or sketching diagrams, and creating a master electrical equipment document.
- Equipment: Prioritize repairs and replacements based on equipment categories.
- Reenergizing the facility: Gradually restore utility power while testing and validating equipment performance.
- System commissioning: Ensure proper operation and functionality of restored systems.
- Project Summary: Compile a detailed report for future reference, including equipment conditions and a long-term replacement plan.
The final phase of the disaster recovery process is compiling a comprehensive summary report, which serves as a roadmap for future preparedness and recovery efforts. A well-documented report should include:
- As-found conditions of the electrical infrastructure
- List of repaired or replaced equipment
- Test results of all equipment tested before and after service or repairs
- Assessment of individual equipment condition
- Long-term equipment replacement plan
Resilience Empowered by Preparedness
While we can’t control the forces of nature, we can certainly control our response to them—and it’s critical that electrical safety remains at the forefront of this response. By adhering to hurricane preparation and recovery best practices, communities are empowered with the knowledge and tools to mitigate hazards, ensure safer recoveries, and build greater resilience in the face of natural disasters.
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