Columbus, Neb.- Electric utilities across the country are falling victim to intruders who believe electric utility substations are an easy mark for obtaining metals such as aluminum and copper. That attempt to make a few dollars could end up in the loss of life.
Reports of theft of copper and metal have increased in recent months, causing concern not only for the protection of substation equipment, but also the safety of those who enter illegally. Substations, many located in remote areas and away from residences, have been targeted in the past. While the theft of materials is a serious issue for the Nebraska Public Power District, individuals who gain access into a substation may be putting themselves at risk of injury or death by facing exposure to several thousand volts or more of electricity.
Substation intruders in Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas have been electrocuted while attempting to steal copper. A recent attempt caused 3,000 customers in Ohio to lose their electricity for several hours. By trespassing in substations, these individuals gambled with their lives and lost.
“It just isn’t worth the risk of any individual to illegally enter a substation and attempt to remove any metals,” said NPPD Transmission and Distribution Manager Tom Kent. “Entering a substation with all the warning signs is trespassing, and removing metal or other objects can land an individual in jail.”
Electric utility substations are clearly marked with warning signs that read “Danger – High Voltage.” This means think “safety first” and walk the other way. Kent added, “Substations that handle power for thousands of households are not designed for the public to enter at will, and that is why we fence them off and lock them. Only trained, well-equipped professionals should ever enter a substation.”
Kent stressed that safety is NPPD’s top priority and District personnel are trained to safely work the electric system. In addition, the utility uses various security measures to guard substations against intrusion. Individuals who attempt to remove items from a substation are not trained to properly deal with the facility and risk becoming a fatality.
While copper theft creates the potential for electrocution through illegal entry, it is also a felony crime, and offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows. Copper theft costs the utility money, decreases reliability, and may even put NPPD employees at risk.
Individuals who see any unusual activity around substations, transmission towers, utility poles, or storage sites should report information to local law enforcement at 911 immediately. The individual observing the activity should safely gather specific information on who, what, when, where, and any vehicle and personal descriptions, but should not attempt to stop the crime in progress.