We’re at the Seattle Municipal Tower downtown, where Seattle City Light superintendent Jorge Carrasco is leading a media briefing about streetlight safety, in the wake of both the Thanksgiving Day electrocution of a dog who walked onto an electrified plate by a Queen Anne light, and a High Point incident revealed last night. Though City Light’s account did not mention names, HP resident Wendy Hughes-Jelen identified herself in WSB comments as the person who called to report a streetlight that appeared to be having problems, after her Italian greyhound Sophia acted oddly around it. Carrasco says the pole she reported (on SW Raymond, near the one in our photo) was indeed found to have “voltage” on the pole – no one was injured, however. That has been repaired, and he says after immediate testing of a half-dozen poles nearby, crews also went out yesterday and tested all 170 streetlights in the High Point area to be sure there were no other problems; there weren’t, but the grounding system there will be evaluated, in case a “more robust” grounding system is needed, according to Carrasco. Other “similar” developments will be checked ASAP, he said – listing them later as Greenbridge in White Center, as well as two Seattle developments, Rainier Vista and New Holly. The problem that caused the voltage in the High Point pole, according to the superintendent, was a frayed wire. The pole carried 50 volts, said City Light staffers at the briefing, which Carrasco confirmed could have been a problem if a pet or child had touched it before it was fixed. The voltage involved in the Queen Anne dog’s death, they said, was 90.
Here’s what he mentioned regarding safety “going forward”: As of New Year’s Day, there’s a new grounding standard for all metal poles, and City Light will be accountable for all inspections from thereon out. “We operate the streetlight system – we need to be the ones making sure the streetlights are safe,” Carrasco said. (It was revealed in coverage of the Queen Anne dog incident that SDOT had some accountability for checking the lights.) He also discussed the decorative streetlights that are in place in some neighborhoods – saying it’s difficult for crews to keep track of the different grounding configurations. “We are going to reduce the number of options going forward,” Carrasco said, regarding those types of streetlamps, in order to reduce the chances of safety hazards. He also announced a plan to test all 20,000 existing metal-poled streetlights (the rest of the city’s system has wooden poles) for voltage between now and next May 1st, while noting that a just-completed inventory of streetlights has had crews visiting all of those poles fairly recently, with no problems detected at the time. “We had a human being in the past year touching every one of those poles, metal or wood, and no problems were reported,” he reiterated. (As part of the inventory process, a metal plate was attached to metal poles.)
If you see anything of concern with a streetlight or pole, Carrasco stressed, call City Light at 206-684-7056 (the number we mentioned last night); he says staff has been trained so that they will recognize signs of a problem requiring an immediate inspection. We are checking to see what hours that number is answered, and what to do if you see a potential problem after-hours. Bottom line, though, SCL says these problems are extremely rare, so – Carrasco insists – you do NOT need to be worried that every streetlight pole you see is a potential hazard.