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Electrical Safety in an Earthquake Zone

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Living in an earthquake zone can create some interesting hazards for you and your home's electrical infrastructure,  but a few easy precautions taken ahead of time can save lives and infrastructure.   Most of these  safety measures apply in day-to-day situations everywhere, but these become very critical when an earthquake hits, and water and electrical wiring and cords are shaken and moved. 

Home appliances

We all have quite a number of electrical appliances in our homes, like fridges, microwaves, computers, heaters, etc. Here are some basic guidelines:

· As a matter of precaution, ensure that your appliances are approved by a reputable consumer laboratory. In Canada, you'll be looking for the CSA seal.

· Always unplug unused appliances and keep the cords away from pets, children, and safety hazards.

· Be careful with heat emitting appliances like computer monitors, televisions, and clocks. Give them some breathing space to allow for air circulation and cooling.

· Keep all electrical appliances away from water. Don’t keep them near bathtubs, pools, sinks, and overhead vents.

Electrical Cords

Electrical appliances come with several types of cords. In addition to that, you might be using extension cords to increase the number of electrical outlets. During an earthquake, water can leak over your electrical sources and the cords themselves can be jarred out of place or ripped, creating an electrocution hazard.  Observe the following safety tips:

· Make sure you regularly check the cords for kinks, cracks or frays. If you can do this every time before you use them, even  better.

· Firmly plug the cords into outlets and check that they are not loose. Replace loose cords with tight-fitting ones.

· Avoid stapling or nailing cords to secure it into position. Instead, use tape or twist ties so they can flex when things move instead of ripping.

· Don’t place cords under rugs. Doing so can easily turn them into strip hazards as the coating on the wiring becomes worn. Also, covered cords do not cool as quickly as they should.

· Minimize the use of extension cords as much as possible.

· For extension cords, make sure you use the right length and weight. Depending on where you are using it, ensure it is rated indoor or outdoor.

Power outlets

To prevent short circuits and fires, make sure you plug every cord into the appropriate electrical outlet (that means no jamming those three-pronged plugs into two-pronged extension cords!).  In addition, use the following electrical safety tips:

· If you have unused outlets, block them by changing the socket to a solid cover plate (if you never use them)  or use plastic childproof caps if you use them occasionally.   An even better option that is now  available is sliding plate covers that slide to the side to allow you to plug something in, but pop back shut when not in use. 

· Avoid overloading power outlets with multiple power strips or adaptors. The best thing is to relocate cords. Too much load on an outlet can lead to overheating and possibly fire.

· Avoid putting any object other than the appropriate plug size into a power outlet.

· Be careful about the electrical circuits in potentially hazardous areas such as kitchens, near pools, crawl spaces, bathrooms, and semi-finished basements. Make sure these areas have ground circuit interrupter outlets.  (That's those GFI's we referred to in our previous blog post here.)

· All outlets should be kept properly-covered with secure plates to hide all wiring.

Light bulbs

Every home has one or several light bulbs. By ensuring proper light bulb safety, you can prevent them from being the source of electrical hazards as things shake and fall. Try the following tips:

· For every fixture, use bulbs with the correct wattage requirements. Fixtures can overheat when you use light bulbs with a higher wattage.

· If you can,  switch to fluorescent bulbs which provide the same light at a lower wattage level.

· When a compact fluorescent bulb breaks, open the windows and have all pets and people leave the room for about 10 minutes.  The new energy efficient CFL bulbs that we are all switching to contain a tiny bit of mercury that can turn to gas when the bulb breaks.  There's some debate about how dangerous this is or isn't, but it's better to be cautious, especially with small children.

· Do not leave light bulbs loosely screwed as they can cause sparks or short circuits. (And before you change a light bulb, first completely turn off the fixture.)

Outdoor safety precautions

The outdoors of your home shouldn’t be neglected when it comes to putting in place electrical safety precautions. Here are some electrical safety precautions for your outdoors:

· All the trees close to power lines and close to the house where the electrical connection is should be pruned.

· Always bear in mind that contact with any type of power line can be deadly.

· Never approach a buried power line to check if it is live. Although there will be no signs to show that it is live, it might just be as deadly.

· Never play or swim in stagnant water during an electrical emergency, even where there is no rain.

If you carefully observe these safety precautions, you will be better prepared when disaster strikes.