Choptank Cooperative offers safety presentation

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz  An accident scene simulation at Choptank Electric Cooperative facility in Denton was part of a public awareness program offered on Aug. 16. The demo car is “hot” with a 7200 volt overhead line lying on the car.

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
An accident scene simulation at Choptank Electric Cooperative facility in Denton was part of a public awareness program offered on Aug. 16. The demo car is “hot” with a 7200 volt overhead line lying on the car.


DENTON — Power outage. The very phrase strikes alarm in our hearts. Power outages are frustrating for consumers who want their power back in minutes, not hours or days. The companies who supply power feel the same way. They want to restore power to their clients. Safely!

To pass the word along Choptank Electric Cooperative offered a demonstration on Aug. 16 to show just how they restore the electricity so vital to their customers’ daily lives and emphasized safety tips. About 25 representatives from several mid-shore counties attended and found out just how sophisticated the Choptank systems are.

Choptank linemen Jason Smith and Nick Newnam opened the program at the company’s display trailer. They laid a pine branch across a conductor cable that was energized at 7,200 volts. The branch began to smoke. It clearly was starting to catch fire as electricity flowed through the branch. If it was a tree, up to 35’ around the tree’s base would potentially be energized. Bystanders would risk electrocution just by stepping up to the tree. The linemen wear special shoes, clothing, hard hats, and safety glasses, all rated for 2,700 volts. Even then they cannot touch a live power line without additional special equipment.

Mr. Smith explained, “There’s a process we have to go through to ensure power is shut off and is safe for public and utility workers.” A tester ensures the line is safe with a warning beep and light for verification. After grounding the line and “tagging” it the line can be considered dead and the tag warns other linemen the line is under repair. At that point the linemen can remove their rubber safety gloves and work with leather gloves. Obviously, restoring power is not as simple as throwing a switch.

The pair simulated a short circuit overload situation and warned everyone it would go off like a shotgun. Even with the warning, everybody jumped. Mr. Smith added when a customer tells the call-in center he or she heard what sounded like a shotgun, the linemen know what to expect.

A simulated accident scene included a car with smoke pouring out of the engine, a live cable draped over the car’s roof, and a stranded driver still inside the car. Surely a recipe for disaster. The message for driver and first responders was “remember the 35’ danger zone.” Since the human body conducts electricity, no one should touch a downed power line or person or object in direct or indirect contact with the downed line. Call 911. Then the power company. Only when power is interrupted is it safe to act.

The volunteer stranded driver stood on the car’s ledge without stepping out. She crossed her arms, kept her feet together, and jumped out of the car without touching the car. Mr. Smith instructed her to shuffle with her feet together to the end of the 35’ perimeter. Whew! If it had been real, she would be safe.

The Call-In Center was the final stop. It looks as high-tech as a mini version of NASA mission control. From this room response servers remotely operate the system to coordinate the outages, track the repair crews’ locations with GPS in every truck, and monitor the calls. The coop offers an outage page on its website, updated every 10 mins., to keep customers current with power restoration progress. Radio communication from the PA line, to VA’s eastern shore, and to southern Delaware allows some 911 centers to tie into the radio system so that during emergencies Choptank linemen can talk directly over the 911 channels as well.

The event was an eye-opener and well worth attending. It validated Choptank’s message: “After the storm, we’re ready!”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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