Just this week, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a 47-year-old Florida Fish and Wildlife officer was electrocuted on his morning bike ride. A live power line carrying 7,620 volts of electricity had been dangling from a pole along the Courtney Campbell Causeway for an estimated 10 hours before the accident, but Tampa Electric Co. didn’t find out about it until it was too late. A forensic engineer is investigating the cause of the incident, but officials believe that a thunderstorm the previous evening is what knocked down the line.
The incident exposes an ongoing problem that continues to confound power companies, even though we live in an age of constantly improving technology. Experts say that there is still no foolproof way to alert electric companies when there is a downed power line. The worst part of this situation is that the technology does exist, but is not widely used in the industry largely because of the cost. According to Arturo Bretas, a University of Florida professor of electrical engineering, “it’s just a matter of utilities being willing to invest in it.”
How Do Electrocution Accidents Occur?
Devices such as relays and fuses that detect spikes in current and shut down power have been a standard in the industry for many years, but they are only effective in 75 percent of cases. The remaining 25 percent are “high impedance” faults in which there are not enough amps flowing through a broken line to trip circuit breakers. This can occur when a line lands in dry sand or asphalt, which are both good insulators. When a person gets too close, the current can surge and deliver a potentially deadly electric shock.
The cost of detection device technology would run into the millions of dollars, but cost is not the only barrier. There is still no way for these systems to pinpoint the exact location of a fault, which would mean that utility crews would have to search miles of power lines for the problem. Until an effective solution is found, the public is advised to assume that any downed line is energized and immediately notify Tampa Electric.
The Florida Law Group extends its deepest condolences to the family of the victim of this tragedy, and hope that utility companies will take swift and decisive action to prevent these types of accidents from occurring in the future.