The Pokemon Craze and Electrical Safety

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The Pokemon Craze and Electrical Safety

It seems that the appetite for playing the Pokémon Go app has been overriding common sense and decorum.

People have played the game at certain monuments and museums, sparking outcries about their disrespect for the monuments and disregard to visitors. Some of these locations have requested on social media that players refrain from playing at the sites and have also requested from Niantic, the game’s developer, that their sites be removed from the game.

Even more disturbing is the fact that players have also entered into high-security and dangerous places, like a military base in Indonesia and high-voltage electrical substations here in the U.S. in order to satisfy their quest for imaginary characters.

So much for the signage required by OSHA that warns non-qualified people not to enter an area because of high voltage – these players aren’t paying attention to those signs. Fences can’t even keep them away from electrical equipment. According to multiple utility sources, these providers are finding substation gate locks cut and have even caught some people actually climbing the fences surrounding high-voltage equipment.

In response to the misbehavior of enthusiasts, Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA, has issued a warning on their Facebook page: “DO NOT chase Pokémon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings, or homes on base.”

Pokemon warning snippet


And power companies in Alabama and Ohio are warning the public to stay away from substations and transformers and not consider these facilities as gaming locations. Utility officials in other areas are having to add increased security to discourage and prevent future attempts to enter substations. In fact, many of our country’s substations are already equipped with fence sensors, thermal cameras or microwave and passive infrared motion sensors.

How much more can we warn people of the dangers of electricity? Fun and games aside, we cannot forget the power of this invisible killer. More than 30,000 non-fatal shock accidents are reported each year in the U.S. There is an estimated average of 60 electrocutions each year that link back to consumer products. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 156 people died from exposure to electricity while on the job in 2014.

Those who work on and around electrical equipment are already being trained to look out for themselves and fellow workers, follow guidelines (and laws) concerning personal safety at work, and to put up barriers to keep the general public out of dangerous electrical work areas. Their jobs are dangerous enough and require all their attention. They don’t need the added concern of distracted players wandering onto a dangerous job site.

Given the wrong set of circumstances, crossing the boundary and contacting live equipment can be lethal. Factors such as the type of clothing the person is wearing or whether it’s been raining recently can make injuries worse. In 2011, the Transmission and Distribution Manager for Nebraska Public Power District said, “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.”

Legal ramifications exist as well. An unauthorized person who trespasses into a substation can be charged with criminal trespassing, punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.

Some say the appetite for capturing these imaginary monsters will eventually wane. Time will tell, as well as Niantic’s ability to smooth out technical problems and keep player interest high. But in the meantime, pay attention to what you’re doing! Continue looking out for yourself and keep clear of any potential electrical hazards. Your life is worth more than capturing a Pokémon.

Ken Sellars

Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide. Read more about Ken.

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