Kids ask winter safety | BCHydro Power Smart for Schools

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Power Smart for Schools Team

Classroom delighters

Winter safety kick-starter: Kids' questions answered

Jan 3, 2023

5 min read

"The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity."

– Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist and National Geographic Explorer in Residence.

Thank goodness for kids asking questions that many of us, as adults, may be too afraid to ask.

We're sorting through a treasure trove of questions asked by B.C. students, either at Power Smart For Schools events or via email. We'll answer them, and then propose ways teachers and parents can use them to launch discussions and related activities.

Buckle up. Here we go.

1. Do you think the wind in B.C. could blow a human away?

Believe it or not, wind speeds like those seen in a tropical hurricane can actually lift a person straight off the ground. Luckily for us here in B.C., our worst storms won't blow you away. But high winds do knock down trees and break branches, and are a common source of power outages.

Did you know? During a December 2018 storm, winds at the Lennard Island Lighthouse, near Tofino, B.C., were as high as 144 km/h. The world record, however, is 408 km/h, recorded in 1996 during Tropical Cyclone Olivia over Barrow Island, Australia. 

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2. How do you get downed power lines off roads?

BC Hydro crews de-energize the lines – by shutting off power from afar  – to make them safe to work on. Even though crews working on downed lines know if it has been de-energized, you can't tell. So if you see a downed power line make sure to stay at least 10 metres away – the length of  a school bus – and call 911.

Did you know? If a kite gets tangled in a power line, the electrical current could travel through the kite and you to reach the ground.

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3.  Do you need an emergency kit if local power lines are underground?

Yes. Even if your power lines are underground, complications in a storm can still cause the power to go out. So it's a good idea to have an emergency kit around – it's also essential for other emergencies, such as in the case of floods or earthquakes.

Did you know? It's a good idea turn off all appliances, especially those that generate heat, after the power goes out. This helps prevent injury, damage and fire when the power is restored.

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4.  How thick does ice on a pond need to be to be safe for skating?

The Canadian Red Cross recommends a minimum thickness of 20 cm for skating parties, hockey, or games on the ice, and a minimum of 25 cm for snowmobiles. But the size of the pond or lake, and the colour of the ice, are also key factors. Clear blue ice is strongest, while white opaque ice – formed by wet snow freezing on the ice – is half as strong. And grey ice, which indicates the presence of water, is definitely unsafe.

Did you know? To be sure ice is safe, check ice conditions with knowledgeable local individuals such as resort owners, police, or members of snowmobile clubs.

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5.  How can squirrels and birds sit or walk on power lines without getting hurt?

Birds and small animals are far from the ground when they're on a wire, so there's no path nearby for the electrical circuit to be completed. But a person standing on the ground and touching a power line is in danger of completing the circuit.

Did you know? The voltage or electrical intensity decreases as it moves further from the source, such as a power line. A safe distance from the source of contact, like a downed power line, is 10 metres or more, which is the length of a school bus.

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6.  How many volts are in a bolt of lightning?

A lightning strike can carry up to 100 million volts of electricity, and lightning kills or injures an estimated 120 to 190 people each year in Canada. But while, an average of 10 people in our nation are killed each year by lightning, your chance of being hit by lightning is still more than one in less than a million.

If you count the seconds between a flash of lightning and a thunder clap, you can tell approximately how close the lightning is to you: each second representing about 300 metres. The Canada Safety Council has a great list of do's and don'ts for lightning safety, including where and where not to shelter.

Did you know? As much as it might seem like a wasted opportunity, harnessing the energy of lightning strikes is an impractical dream because it's variable, and a single strike would be extremely damaging to equipment. For now, we can delight in the fictional genius of Doc Brown – from the movie Back To The Future – in his idea of channeling energy from lightning through the flux capacitor in his DeLorean (car) to allow for time travel.

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7.  What do you do if your car hits a power pole?

Assessing the situation is your first priority. If the car is operational and the driver can drive the vehicle away from the pole and then call 911, that's the first option. But if that's not possible, the best bet is to dial 911 and wait for help. But if there's a fire or no help arrives, occupants of the car may need to calmly jump clear of the vehicle and shuffle to a spot at least 10 metres away, taking care not to touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time.

Did you know? Electrical utilities used to recommend "hopping" away from a car that hit a pole. But that option was revised years ago, as a shuffle – the heel of one foot should still be touching the toe of the other when you start moving the other leg – is the safer method. Also never lift either foot off the ground.

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8.  Can you be electrocuted in the water?

Yes. Water is an excellent conductor, and you can become electricity's path to the ground if you are touching water that touches electricity. So when power lines are down in a storm or after a car accident, always assume that they're live, and that any water in the area can carry an electrical current. Ensure you're not only at least 10 metres away from a downed power line, but also that you're not standing in water anywhere near a downed power line.

At home, take care to keep electrical devices away from sources of water, such as the bathtub or sinks. And never remove a plug when your hands are wet, or if you're touching a metal object.

Did you know? If you can't find safe shelter in a lightning storm, make sure to stay away from water, including puddles, ponds, and lakes.

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