Bangkok Floods 2011: electrified water and how to test for it

If you arrive at a flooded area and aren't sure whether it's safe to go into the water because of the possibility that it may be ele...

If you arrive at a flooded area and aren't sure whether it's safe to go into the water because of the possibility that it may be electrified, here's a way to test for it. Translated from an interview from a professor on ThaiPBS.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Link: Read more on the 2011 Bangkok Floods
If you’re in a flood area where the electricity hasn't been cut yet, there is a risk that current is flowing in the flood waters. ThaiPBS interviewed a professor earlier today to ask how to deal with this risk, and here's a translation of the main points.

Testing if there is electricity flowing through the water

If you’ve reached a flooded area and want to test whether there is electricity flowing in the water, and you don't have any tools or other options for testing, you can lightly touch the water using the back of your hand. Do NOT use the front, as that will electrocute you. Also, do NOT submerge your hand as it may kill you.

In the event you feel a tingly sensation, it means there is a current still flowing. Identify the source of the current and turn it off before retesting and entering the water.

Reader Contributions

Several readers have kindly added their knowledge to this via the comments section:

Why we should use the back of the hand only:
"If you use the back of the hand, the electric shock will kick your hand back off the water. If you use the front of the hand the electricity will make your muscles close & your hand will submerge into the water."
Why having a Ground Fault Interrupter might be a good idea:
"If you live in a flood area, this is a reason to have your main circuit breaker have Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI). This is a circuit that detects current leaking from the dangerous side of the circuit and not returning on the normal path. Not only will this automatically turn off your electricity during a flood but will protect your whole house all the time from possible electrocution and from some possible (but not all) electrical fires."
Details on why electrified water will kill you:
"Floodwater has the same voltage as earth, which is 0 Volt. It is the best electrical earth that can be found, with virtually no resistance.

The danger comes from a person standing with feet in the water, so he is perfectly grounded to 0 Volt. Touching an electrical device that has voltage on the enclosure will lead to a current through body to earth. The lower the resistance, the higher the current.

A human can only hold 30mA, which is a very low current. Short circuits, wrong connections, ungrounded neutral are all causes that can lead to voltage on enclosure or other parts. If you are standing in water, do not touch any device that has an electrical connection (microwave, fridge, cooking stove, but also street lantarn from metal).

Ground fault interrupter are here mostly know as earth fault breakers. But those are not found in Thai houses, I have only seen them in industrial systems.

Recommendation for touching with back of hand is correct, this is also applicable to touching a device. Current will cause muscles to cramp, and hand will be pulled away automatically."
Thank you for your contributions. If you'd like to be credited, please do let me know.

If someone has fallen into water with electricity still flowing, and has been electrocuted

Do NOT follow that person into the water, as you too will be electrocuted. Instead, use a rope, dry towel or anything to get the person to dry land. Do not touch the water.

Being electrocuted for more than 0.04 seconds will most likely result in the victim’s heart stopping, so you must take their pulse and immediately perform CPR and pump their heart.

Turning off electricity if your house has been flooded

According to the Metropolitian Electricity Authority (MEA) via the Bangkok Post, you should turn off your main switch to the ground floor if flooded. When doing so, make sure you are standing on dry land and NOT submerged in water. Use clothes to cover your hands when switching off for additional safety.

WARNING: live electricity, including when flowing in water is dangerous and can kill you, and you should avoid it where possible. This information is provided as-is based on a good-will translation of an interview on ThaiPBS and has not been vetted for accuracy, and may not be appropriate for your situation. We accept no liability for any damages as a result of use of this information. You should take appropriate precautions in these difficult times.

Link: Read more on the 2011 Bangkok Floods



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Karn Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Bangkok Floods 2011: electrified water and how to test for it
Bangkok Floods 2011: electrified water and how to test for it
Karn Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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