Complaining about a downed power line on social media can actually save lives

Today it’s easy for utility companies to monitor social media and Twitter for terms such as “power outage” or “downed wires” as a fast way to detect dangers

Complaining about a downed wire on Twitter and social media can actually save lives.

Stemming from an actual case that our electrocution lawyers were recently contacted about, we know it can. I was also inspired to write about this after reading an article from The Daily Dot, which referenced another story published in the Transportation Research Record, where researchers found that tweets can be used as real-time indicators of adverse weather:

“Standard traffic planners count on models gather data from cameras and sensors and weather reports from local weather stations; this information is enough to account for the flow of traffic and general weather in the region, but doesn’t take into account road conditions and information that requires more surface-level reporting.”

That’s where Twitter comes in. When users send out 140 characters of grievance about how their road hasn’t been plowed yet or how slippery a street is, it provided additional insight into the true quality of the roadways rather than an estimated one.

The researchers from University at Buffalo took over 360,000 tweets amassed in the Buffalo Niagara region during a 19-day period in December 2013, when the area experienced around nine inches of snowfall.

From the pile of tweets, the researchers extracted about 3,000 relevant ones, which were tagged with keywords such as “snow” or “melt.” The data from those tweets—information about the weather, the geolocation tag, etc.—was extracted using a method referred to as “Twitter Weather Events Observation.”

Airlines are doing it. Comcast is doing it. Countless companies these days are using social media and monitoring tweets for quick damage control when dealing with unhappy customers. Why not apply the same idea  to utility companies? These companies can use Twitter and other social media sites like Facebook right now, as a quick, easy, inexpensive and real-time indicator of downed wires and/or inclement weather that could cause power lines to fall.

Before someone is electrocuted and killed.

If utility companies monitor tweets and Facebook posts that mention “power outages” and “downed wire(s),” they could get to the source and prevent an electrocution accident or shock injury from occurring even faster.

Currently, utility companies rely on “old school” methods to discover downed wires and problems with power line infrastructure. They use the phone. They rely on residents to call them and report them.

Related to this topic, most of my own electrocution lawsuits over the last 30 years have been because power companies were ignoring inspections and maintenance of infrastructure. It’s a deadly one-two combination when utility companies don’t follow their inspection calendars where utility workers are out on the field looking for problems, and are relying on people to call them on the phones.

Drones are starting to be used used to inspect power line infrastructure as well.  This makes sense. But monitoring twitter and social media can be done right now too.

Here’s more information on the duties of utility companies to inspect their power line structures, including the types of inspections, frequency, case law and the timing.

But while I’m urging utility companies to find a more efficient way to detect downed lines as soon as possible, many wrongful death electrocution and serious electrical burn injuries arise when the utilities are notified – but don’t respond to reports of downed wires in a timely manner. Just one recent, very tragic example I’ve written about is the electrocution death of 12-year-old K’brianna Griffin of Detroit, Michigan. K’brianna was killed when she was playing in her friend’s yard and came into contact with a live power line.

In K’brianna’s case, an inactive city power line became energized when it fell across a live DTE distribution wire. The City of Detroit’s statement did not address when the wire is believed to have fallen, but the girl’s death came after weeks of reports of downed wires in the area, according to police in published reports.  As an attorney who focuses on these types of cases, this is a fact pattern that is sadly not unique to this tragedy in Detroit.  This indicates K’brianna’s untimely death was likely entirely preventable if the wires were repaired or removed as soon as they were reported down.

Free Consultation