How to reduce wire thefts, and the outages they spawn

Would you risk being hit by lightning for $100?

Seems a bit ludicrous, but desperate times cause folks to do foolish things. Thefts of copper, bronze, aluminum, and bronze are on the rise, at abandoned commercial buildings, empty homes, and—most dangerously—at power substations near neighborhoods.

We need your help to keep our equipment safe, prevent outages, and save lives. At an electric co-op in Oklahoma recently, metal thieves took off with about $100 worth of wire in a substation, but left behind a $1 million repair bill after a fire destroyed regulators, switches, and a $600,000 transformer. More than 3,500 consumers were temporarily left in the dark after the incident, although the co-op moved quickly to reroute power to affected areas.

It’s hard to understand why folks would put their life on the line for a few dollars. Many law enforcement officials believe that methamphetamine users are responsible for much of the problem. And the damage done to our system packs a big punch, since equipment can be ruined without the protection copper wires provide.

There’s also the potential for loss of life.

In 2010, metal theft-related deaths occurred in North Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. The cost for scrap copper goes up and down, but recently it’s been on the rise—and so have robbery attempts. In January 2011 scrap copper sold for five times the amount it went for in 2001. We use copper to ground our equipment, protecting it from electrical surges and lightning by giving electricity a safe path to ground. We use a lot of copper wire in our substations, where we step-down high-voltage electricity arriving from distant power plants before it travels to your neighborhood. Then another transformer near your home—either mounted on a utility pole or in a green box on the ground—lowers the voltage again so you can use the power at home. Copper is an essential component every step of the way.

Our linemen are highly trained professionals who understand the dangers of working with electricity and take proper safety precautions. To protect the public we surround our substations with secure fencing and post warning signs. But some thieves will not be deterred. Please help us prevent these thefts. If you notice anything unusual, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, or hanging wire, call Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative immediately at (800) 342-4671. If you see anyone other than our utility personnel or contractors around substations or other electric facilities, call the police.

Shocker: All I want is a safe home this Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, children sometimes sneak into the kitchen to whip up a surprise breakfast for their parents. It’s always a treat to wake up to the smell of breakfast cooking—eggs, bacon, and, of course, toast. And their smiles more than make up for the disaster zone normally left in the wake.

It’s great to see how excited children can be about cooking something special. When my son is older, I hope he’ll do the same for me. I’ll rest easy knowing I’ve made the kitchen as safe as possible for the experiments (and mountain of dishes) to come.

Every month I check all of our appliance cords. Our toaster was replaced last year—after some early-on motherly tributes, the cord got too close to the toaster and melted. Since an average of 3,600 home fires each year start with toasters and toaster ovens, it’s best not to take chances.

I’ve also installed special outlets in the kitchen and our bathrooms (anywhere near water, really) called ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). If a problem occurs—an appliance overheating or a wayward coffee maker tipping into the sink—power is shut off. A red test button reminds me to check these outlets monthly. They’re my first line of defense.

Even cold appliances pose a safety risk—refrigerators are responsible for about a thousand fires annually. Every three months I have [the kids/my son/daughter] help me take off the small panel at the base of our fridge and vacuum away dust and debris. Not only does this prevent a fire, it makes our fridge more efficient. By getting [the kids/my son/daughter] to help I teach [them/him/her] how to take care of [their/his/her] own kitchen some day.

A third of all home fires start in the kitchen, but every room could hold potential danger. May isn’t only a time to honor mothers—it’s also National Electrical Safety Month. Please take the time this month to check your home for electrical hazards. Spending a few minutes to check for problems can make all the difference when you’re faced with a potentially unsafe situation. To learn more, take a home safety tour at virtualhome.esfi.org. There’s also a wealth of safety knowledge available at www.SafetyatHome.com, and www.SafeElectricity.org.

On Mother’s Day and every day, we want to help you keep your family safe. Sharing electrical safety tips is just another way we’re looking out for you. To learn more about our commitment to safety, visit Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative at http://www.dakotavalley.com.

What to do in a winter weather power outage?

With the impending weather, I thought I’d post this article on winter safety from Chris Grammes of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

P.S. It’s after 7 p.m. here and nary a snowflake is fallen near my abode south and east of Jamestown. What about you?

Snow and ice storms are an inevitable part of the winter season. However, they can lead to downed power lines and outages. Remember the following tips to stay safe and warm should you find yourself in the dark after a severe winter event:

Never touch a fallen power line, and assume all wires on the ground are electrically charged. Call your electric co-op at 800-882-2500 to report it immediately. Avoid contact with overhead lines during cleanup and other activities.
In the event of an outage, an alternate heating source—such as a fireplace, propane space heater, or wood stove—may be used. Extreme caution should be taken.

 

Plan to stay in an area of the home where the alternate heat source is located.

 

Fuel- and wood-buring heating sources should be vented. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions.
Make sure carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors are working properly.

 

Do not use a gas-powered oven for heating. A gas oven may go out or burn inefficiently, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

Do not use a gas or charcoal grill inside the home. Do not use charcoal briquettes in the fireplace.

 

If you use a portable generator to power a heating source, be sure the generator is located outside your house for proper ventilation. Do not use a generator in an attached garage. Follow manufacturer’s directions for operating the generator.

 

Take special care not to overload a generator. Use appropriately sized extension cords to carry the electric load. Make sure the cords have a grounded, three-pronged plug and are in good condition.

 

Never run cords under rugs or carpets.

 

Never connect generators to power lines. The reverse flow of electricity can electrocute an unsuspecting utility worker.

Ideally, your family will stay warm until the power comes back on. But keep an eye on family members for signs of hypothermia, which include shivering, drowsiness, and mental and physical slowness. The elderly and young children are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia. Call 911 immediately if you notice these symptoms. At least one telephone in the house that does not depend on electricity should be available in the case of a power outage.

Sources: Consumer Product Safety Commission; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Ag Safety Database)

 

For more info, check out the American Red Cross’ Winter Ready Checklist here.

So about that snow… send me pictures and I’ll post. (katiea@nplains.com) Then we can compare snowfall levels throughout the service area. Bragging rights!

Stay safe everyone!

If your toaster smokes, don’t throw water on it… and other electrical safety tips

What IF? Sometimes, quick thinking can save you from disaster, or at least a lot of time and trouble. Here’s a list of ways to protect your family and your property.

Source: Northern Plains Electrical Cooperative

What To Do If An Appliance Sparks or Smokes

Avoid touching the appliance itself, but unplug it immediately (or cut the power if it’s controlled by a switch). If there is no other way to turn off the appliance, disable the power feeding the circuit at your breaker box. Once the item has cooled off completely, have it serviced by the appropriate professional.

If the appliance catches fire, don’t try to put it out with water! If you can safely put out the fire with an extinguisher rated for electrical fires, great. If you have one shred of doubt, don’t even try. Whether you can put the fire out or not, you must immediately get everyone out of the house and call the fire department when you have reached a safe place. Why? The wiring in your walls may have also caught fire and even if you managed to put out the blazing appliance, you may have a fire smoldering inside your wall. Don’t return home until the fire department tells you that it’s safe to do so.

What To Do If An Appliance Plug Sparks or Smokes

Cut off the power to the outlet immediately. Once you have disabled the outlet, unplug the device and let it sit until it has cooled off. Check your breaker box for signs of a blown fuse or tripped breaker and reset/replace if necessary. Inspect both the appliance’s cord and its plug. If either appears to be damaged, it will need replacement. If they appear fine, the problem may be your outlet and you may need to consider replacing the outlet itself.

What To Do If A Light Bulb Breaks Off In A Socket

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a major emergency, but it does create a dangerous situation that can easily be overcome. Unplug the lamp or turn off the switch to the installed fixture and put on safety goggles, particularly if the bulb is in an overhead receptacle. Using a piece of completely dry bar soap, carefully push one end of the bar against the edges of the broken bulb and twist it free. Discard soap.

Be prepared. Have a generator.

Portable generators protect your family and possessions during a power outage. 


A small portable gasoline-powered electric generator can give power for appliances, sump pumps, air conditioners, heaters and other items that keep your home safe from flood waters and high or low temperatures.
It’s a small cost to protect your investments, and is the most economical way to supply power during a power outage. Use a portable generator of the proper wattage for your needs–at least 4,000 Watts for starters.
Portable generators give peace of mind and protection.

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Know How to Survive Auto Accidents Involving Power Lines

Instincts tell us to flee danger. Unfortunately, in vehicle accidents that bring down power lines, these natural inclinations can lead to tragic results.

Safe Electricity wants everyone to know: If your car hits a power pole, or otherwise brings a power line down, stay in your vehicle and wait until the local electric utility arrives on the scene and ensures that lines have been de-energized. If you come upon or witness an accident involving toppled power poles and lines, don’t leave your vehicle to approach the  scene.

The teens in this car crash knew to stay in the car until the power lines that had fallen were de-energized, thanks to a demonstration by their local electric cooperative. Source: Safe Electricity

Indiana teenagers Lee Whittaker and Ashley Taylor saw a power line safety demonstration at their high school and never dreamed their new knowledge would be put to the test. Five days later, they and two classmates were in a car that crashed into a utility pole, bringing live power lines to the ground.

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Earth Day: Have a safe & efficient home all year long

Want to maintain a safe and energy efficient house? There’s no better time to take the steps necessary than on Earth Day, which happens to be today. Better yet, we’ll give you a handy calendar to help you accomplish everything.

Click on the image below to open the full-sized, printable version.

Click on the image to open the printable version!