Puget Sound Energy took the opportunity to provide a little public education during the August 2 activities.
While the neighborhood safety event has come and gone, PSE says citizens still need to be alert to suspicious activity around their neighborhood power substations and to immediately report it by calling 911. Doing so, could save a life, prevent power disruptions and keep utility costs in check.
In Enumclaw on July 30, a woman suspected of attempting to steal copper wire was critically injured with third-degree burns to her arms and face when she came into contact with high voltage equipment after she and an accomplice cut through an 8-foot-high barbed wire topped cyclone fence and entered a PSE substation. The injured woman was discovered by PSE servicemen, who then called for medical aid, as they responded to a power outage caused by the attempted theft.
“Thieves who enter substations to remove copper wiring and vandalize equipment risk serious injury or death from these high-voltage facilities,” said Dave Foster, manager of corporate security for PSE. “In addition to putting themselves and the public in danger, the vandals can cause power outages and tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs, which ultimately impacts customer bills.”
According to Foster, as a result of the higher copper prices and current economic conditions, PSE is seeing a significant increase in the number of copper thefts. Since August 2010, more than 50 copper thefts have occurred at PSE’s substations and on utility poles.
“We want everyone to be alert and to call 9-1-1 if they see any suspicious activity around substations and other utility equipment,” said Sgt. John Urquhart with the King County Sheriff’s Office.
PSE has joined forces with utilities and law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound region to collaborate on ways to stop the copper thefts. “Our greatest opportunity for curbing copper theft is in working closely with law enforcement agencies, our local communities and the scrap metal dealers,” said Foster.
PSE has also taken steps to make substations more secure with patrols, motion-activated lighting, identification coding on copper wire and a newly-installed video-alarm system that alerts local police departments when a burglary is underway at a substation. The utility operates 430 substations in nine counties, primarily in Western Washington.
“Public safety is our primary concern,” noted Foster. “We need to make sure our substations and equipment are safe for our employees, our customers and the general public. We believe in using all available security methods to apprehend and convict those responsible for these thefts.”
PSE suggests the following steps to prevent copper theft and be safe around electric facilities:
- Report suspicious activity around an electric substation, poles or other electrical equipment. Call 911.
- Report information about copper theft to the police.
- Never enter or touch equipment inside a substation.
- Stay away from power lines and anything touching a power line.