Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit: Birds, Squirrels, Balloons…and Hot Dogs

Life as we know it is possible because of electricity. It’s all around us. Sadly, hundreds of people in the United States are hurt or killed each year in electrical accidents. PPL Electric Utilities (PPL EU) has taken on the responsibility and  commitment to help prevent those accidents and help keep people safe.

To promote public safety, advance community
awareness and educate those who live, work or
find themselves unwittingly in close proximity to electric wires, PPL EU built a Live-Line Electric
Safety Exhibit to help explain the potential clout of electricity and demonstrate safe practices for
human interaction with electrical energy because seeing is believing! PPL EU’s Live-Line Electrical
Safety Exhibit presents several real life examples on a live 7,200Kv single phase distribution system
designed to show the power of electricity, how an electrical system operates, how to recognize unsafe and dangerous conditions and, most importantly, how to react to those electrical dangers and remain safe. A bird on a wire, a squirrel on a transformer, a Mylar balloon tangled in electrical wires, and downed wires on a vehicle are but a few of the several demonstrations PPL performs with their Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit.

In 2012-2013, PPL EU expanded the role of their Underground Facilities and Damage Prevention
Department to provide Public Outreach and Safety
Awareness presentations to first responders,  contractors and municipal entities focusing on the “Call 811 Before You Dig” message, safe  work/ excavation practices and the potential dangers of contact with electrical facilities. Lecture series programs, Working Around Electrical Facilities Safely, Call 811 Before You Dig and Look Up and LIVE! were developed and presented to hundreds of police and fire department personnel, excavation contractors, utility field crews and municipal workers. In 2015, PPL EU incorporated a former/retired PPL lineman who lost both hands to an accidental contact with energized 7,200Kv into the Working Around Electrical Facilities Safely program and provided the presentation as the keynote at all five PA One Call Safety Days across the state of Pennsylvania. The quality and content of these presentations earned a level of respect over the years to the extent that the Pennsylvania State Police has invited PPL EU each year since 2014 to present them as part of their Academy curriculum and training to all cadet classes. In 2016, PPL EU broadened the scope of its outreach program by building a Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit to compound the effect of its electrical safety awareness lecture efforts.

During the in-house build of the Live-Line ElectricSafety Exhibit, PPL EU devised several primary
hazards and electrical interruption conditions typically encountered in the field. Ladder contacts,
shovel/hand tool dig-ins, a Mylar balloon contact with electric equipment and downed wires on a vehicle show the possible dangers of accidental touch contact and ground gradient/ step potential with electrical facilities. The bird on a wire, a squirrel on a transformer and a tree branch brushing
a line demonstrates environmental conditions that cause outages and intermittent service interruptions. To further illustrate the dangers of contact with electric facilities, a hot dog is used to simulate a human finger to dramatize the effect electricity has on the human body. A hot dog is also inserted into a leather glove and touched to a live line. The visible electrical arc, the eerie humming sound and the smell of burning meat drives home the safety message to stay clear of downed, over-head or underground electrical lines.

PPL EU kicked off its Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit presentations with first responders and municipal workers in mind. During emergency fire situations, vehicle accidents involving collisions with utility poles or storm events resulting in multiple downed wires on a roadway, firefighters, police, EMA and public works personnel are typically the first on scene. More often than not, it was reported that first responders and public works personnel were observed placing their rescue  equipment, ladders, firefighting equipment or personnel in close proximity to energized facilities. In
some instances, it was reported that public works personnel were making contact with downed wires without benefit of the electric company making roadway clearance work safe. To enhance the awareness and improve first responder safety, PPL EU launched its Live- Line Electrical Safety  Exhibit program.

Trained, qualified linemen, in full personal protective equipment (tested rubber overshoes, rubber
gloves and sleeves, hard hat and safety glasses), operate the system while a presenter, a former
qualified lineman, walks the audience through the actions of each demonstration. The presenter also provides some common sense safety practices and situational awareness applications to prevent such contacts and offers practical ways to protect oneself in dangerous electrical situations. The program reviews OSHA recommended safe clearances, a method of exiting a vehicle safely that is in contact with energized lines, ladder safety and safe excavation practices involving backhoes, shovels and other hand tools. The presenter also reviews portable generator back feed conditions, ground  gradient dangers, automatic reclose equipment operation and the hazards of re-energizing  conductors.

During 2016, PPL EU delivered 26 presentations to
2,215 attendees. PPL EU offers its Live-Line Electrical
Safety Exhibition program from April through October. The success of the Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit is evident; the 2017 schedule is already booked for 36 programs with additional requests made weekly. Although first responders and EMA organizations dominate the program’s schedule, trade schools, contractors, PennDOT, 811 Pennsylvania Safety Days Events and Community Safety Forums are quickly rounding out the available slots.

Our goals are pretty simple. PPL EU wants to educate and raise community awareness of the dangers surrounding electric lines and to impress upon the public the safety measures that should be taken when confronted with emergency situations involving electrical facilities. PPL EU is committed to helping prevent electrical accidents and helping keep people safe.

The PPL EU Live-Line Electrical Safety Exhibit is an eye opening demonstration that truly leaves attendees with a lasting impression of safety.

Mark Santayana is PPL Electric Utilities Project Manager – Under Facilities & Damage Prevention. Prior to leading the PPL EU Damage Prevention Team, Markserved two years as PPL’s Lead Damage PreventionInspector and worked 10 years at Pennsylvania 811 as their Northeast Liaison. Mark is an active Board Member of Pennsylvania One Call System, Inc. and Chairman of their Board Member Development Committee. Mark is also a participating member of the CGA’s Best Practices Committee and the One Call System International Committee. He can be reached at

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