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Jolted Into Action, Con Ed Mobile Team Canvases Streets For Stray Voltage

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New Yorkers have heard about dogs and even people who have died after stepping on outdoor electrified plates — and now Con Ed is cracking down on the problem by canvassing the city's streets for stray voltage. NY1’s Michael Scotto filed the following report.

Most New Yorkers probably haven't noticed an odd-looking truck on their streets before, but it helps make sure a lamp post or manhole cover doesn't give off a dangerous shock — the type that's killed or injured people and dogs in recent years.

"As we drive down this road, we're literally testing hundreds of structures as we move," explained Con Ed worker David Kalokitis.

Kalokitis is an expert in detecting stray voltage. He took NY1 for a ride through Manhattan in one of 15 trucks the power company uses to look out for hot spots that can potentially pop up anywhere.

A contraption on the back of the truck measures for stray voltage. As the truck travels down the street it can detect anything up to 30-feet away from it on either side.

Inside the vehicle Kalokitis monitors a laptop and listens for beeping sounds to determine if the energy around is safe.

“Street lamps, typically, are a primary source of stray voltage,” said Kalokitis.

We didn't find anything dangerous during our trip. If we had, we would have known immediately.

“When we find something that is truly electrified, that signal will ramp up to a very high pitch,” Kalokitis said.

The trucks have been on the streets for the last two years, monitoring the 5,000 miles of underground equipment. They were introduced in response to the death of Jodie Lane , a pedestrian who was electrocuted in 2004 when a metal plate on the street sent 60 volts through her body.

“A lot of work and research has been developed to combat the problem of happens when equipment fails,” said Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin.

The trucks go out five days a week, usually at night when there is less traffic.

In the last year alone, the mobile team canvassed close to 12,000 miles of streets and found nearly 2,000 instances of stray voltage, up from 875 the year before. Officials say that was because more tests were conducted.

In fact, Con Ed says there was an 18 percent drop in the number of reported shocks that were substantiated.

When crews find stray voltage, they get out of the truck and do a hand measurement. If more than a volt is found, another crew will be dispatched to make repairs.

Workers say they look out for defective wiring, especially during snow storms when moisture and salt can turn into a deadly mix.

“[Salt] creates a path for electricity to travel,” said Clendenin. “We do get more instances of shocks with that.”

Despite millions of dollars in spending by Con Ed, there are still critics, like Queens Councilman John Liu.

“The investment has been lagging for so many years,” said Liu. “That's why we have the problems we have today.”

But Con Ed says it's making headway, checking every street one mile, and volt, at a time.

-Michael Scotto
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