Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Guard Against Copper Theft

Tim’s pictures are a good reminder to carry a camera. In addition to documenting the electrical damage, he was quick to pick up fresh tire tracks and a footprint near the box, all neatly captured in the soft Florida sand.

On a Friday morning at about 5 a.m., the remote control at one of Tim White’s sites called and told him the line voltage had dipped below normal.

Tim is the market engineer for the Clear Channel cluster in Sarasota, Fla. He cleared the alarm, took readings on the transmitter and, after ascertaining that all was normal, rolled back over and went to sleep.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 1: Not the greatest way to start a transmitter site inspection.Tim monitored the station throughout the day and noticed that it kept momentarily shutting down, something it does when the generator is running and the air conditioner is also running. He decided to drive to the site and investigate further.

When he got there, he found a burned meter box with the cover pried off from the top, seen in Fig. 1. Tim immediately recognized the work of copper thieves.

Fig. 2 shows the meter box and what’s left inside. Tim could see where the attempt was made to cut the wires, and where phase 2 met phase 3! This is insanity when you realize that this is a 480V three-phase circuit. Copper can’t be that valuable!

Tim’s pictures are a good reminder to carry a camera. In addition to documenting the electrical damage, he was quick to pick up fresh tire tracks and a footprint near the box, all neatly captured in the soft Florida sand.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 2: Also not much left inside this 480 three-phase box.
* * *

It’s not just copper any more.

Engineer Paul Sagi in Kuala Lumpur sends word that steel thieves caused a massive blackout across eastern Malaysia recently. As reported in the International Herald Tribune, Paul says, the thieves removed 20 iron beams from an electricity pylon, causing it to collapse. The beams were likely to net the equivalent of about $13, but the utility said the repairs will cost over $300,000.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 3: Tire tracks may offer clues for the police.
Sobering are some of the theft pictures on the Internet showing burned and charred bodies of would-be thieves. Because the problem is so widespread, put together a plan. Topics to be addressed are whether you have a backup site, a backup generator, a tower rigger on call to help string replacement coax and the numbers of your local police, sheriff and FBI as a start. Let your GM know you’ve taken these preparatory steps.

Several engineers have told me that because of EAS, Homeland Security looks upon radio station vandalism as a threat and has called in the FBI to investigate copper thefts. At the very least, dropping by your local police station or sheriff’s office to make them aware of the theft potential is time well spent. Perhaps they can patrol the transmitter site on the weekends.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 4: Watch where you walk, Watson! Footprints too can help track the thieves.Don’t forget to take along some station T-shirts or ball caps to pass around.

* * *

Buc Fitch attended an annual continuing education day for electrical contracting in Connecticut recently and heard a lot of discussion about Chinese counterfeit QO Square-D circuit breakers (CB) that have filtered into the United States.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 5: Genuine Square D circuit breaker
An original estimate of about 50,000 counterfeit units has been upgraded to a potential 370,000 or more CBs drifting around out there. The real QO Circuit Breakers are the Mercedes-Benz of circuit breakers and are used everywhere where a reliable, cost-effective power distribution and protection system is needed.

Buc says he has probably specified at least a million dollars’ worth of QO series switchgear in homes, offices, hospitals, factories and show rooms where he has done electrical design over the 20 years.

The ubiquity of such equipment is probably why they were such a tempting target for counterfeiting.

Distribution of counterfeit units permeated even into local hardware stores and home centers, so it’s possible there may be some in your station or office or home.

It’s problematic whether the counterfeits will trip when subject to over-current; even if they trip, will it be at the rated current and with the fuse curve you expect? Needless to say, if a CB does not trip when needed, you, your equipment, your station or your home could burn.

Buc provides references to help.

For Square-D counterfeit circuit breakers, go to and enter “08-151” and “08-054” in the search field to read relevant recall announcements by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The counterfeit issue is not to be confused with the recall of some suspect early AFI CBs actually manufactured by Square-D. That recall is addressed at the Square-D Arc Fault Interrupters (AFI) recall notice:

Visit the sites and inform yourself. Thanks, Buc, for offering these references.