PSE calls on residents to report suspicious activity near substations

August 1, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 8 p.m. Aug. 1, 2011

Puget Sound Energy called on citizens Monday to report suspicious activity near neighborhood power substations and report such activity to 911.

The request came after a woman suspected of stealing copper wire from a substation in Enumclaw sustained severe burns to her arms and face.

Authorities said the woman and another person cut through 8-foot-high barbed-wire-topped cyclone fence and entered a PSE substation. The substation has voltages as high as 115,000 volts.

PSE servicemen discovered the woman, and 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,” Dave Foster, manager of corporate security for PSE, said in a statement. “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.”

Foster said the Bellevue-based utility is experiencing a significant increase in copper thefts, as a result of higher copper prices and current economic conditions. Since August 2010, more than 50 copper thefts have occurred at PSE substations and on utility poles.

PSE operates 430 substations in nine counties, mostly in Western Washington. The utility serves more than 1 million electric customers and almost 750,000 natural gas customers in Western Washington, including Issaquah.

“We want everyone to be alert and to call 911 if they see any suspicious activity around substations and other utility equipment,” King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said in a statement.

PSE suggests the following steps to prevent copper theft and remain safe around electric facilities:

  • Report suspicious activity around a substation, poles or other electrical equipment, and 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.

PSE, utilities and law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound region joined to collaborate on ways to stop the copper thefts. The company also added more patrols, motion-activated lighting, identification coding on copper wire a video-alarm system to substations.

“Our greatest opportunity for curbing copper theft is in working closely with law enforcement agencies, our local communities and the scrap metal dealers,” Foster said.

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