Hidden Fire Hazards:The Risks of Co-locating Telecom Equipment on Utility Poles
Oct 18, 2023

Hidden Fire Hazards:The Risks of Co-locating Telecom Equipment on Utility Poles

The integration of telecommunications infrastructure with existing utility poles, a practice known as co-location, has become increasingly common due to the expanding demand for telecom services and the density of 5G towers required for optimal service. However, recent incidents have highlighted significant fire risks associated with this practice, particularly when lashing wires and telecom equipment are installed on poles carrying power lines.

Physical Interactions and Environmental Factors
The co-location practice involves the installation of additional equipment on utility poles, which were initially designed to support specific loads and types of infrastructure. The addition of telecom equipment and lashing wires (used to secure cables onto the utility poles) introduces new physical and environmental stress factors.

One of the primary risks arises from the physical interaction between lashing wires and existing power lines. These metallic wires, if improperly installed, can come into contact with power lines, leading to faults. Environmental factors such as high winds exacerbate this risk, as they can cause the wires to sway and potentially touch the power lines, inducing electrical arcing—a phenomenon where electricity travels through the air between conductors.

Legal Precedents
The legal ramifications of wildfires, accelerated by failures associated with co-location on utility poles, have come into sharp focus in recent years, particularly through cases arising from the Silverado, Woolsey, and Lafayette fires. These incidents have not only highlighted the catastrophic damage these fires can cause but also the specific failures related to co-location practices, particularly the role of lashing wires.

In the context of these fires, investigations and subsequent legal actions pinpointed lashing wires as a critical component of the ignition scenarios. For instance, in the Silverado fire, it was alleged that lashing wires, used to secure communication cables, came into contact with energized electrical lines. This contact resulted in electrical arcing, which generated the ignition source for the fires.

The Woolsey and Lafayette fires further underscored this issue. Legal scrutiny following these fires revealed allegations of similar scenarios where lashing wires, improperly secured or maintained, resulted in electrical sparks that ignited nearby flammable materials.

These legal actions have several implications for utility and telecom companies. Firstly, they've underscored the necessity for these entities to undertake thorough safety assessments and regular maintenance to prevent lashing wire-related incidents. Secondly, they have highlighted the companies’ legal responsibilities and the consequences of neglecting them, including substantial financial liabilities and reputational damage.

Comprehensive engineering assessments are crucial before adding new loads (such as telecom equipment) to existing utility poles. These assessments should consider the cumulative impact of additional equipment, including the physical weight and electrical load, to avoid compromising the poles' structural integrity and safety margins.

The co-location of lashing wires and telecom equipment on utility poles carrying power lines presents a clear and present danger of sparking wildfires, primarily due to physical contact, electrical load stress, and environmental factors. Preventing these hazards necessitates strict adherence to engineering best practices, comprehensive load assessments, regular inspections, and proactive maintenance protocols. As the telecom industry continues to expand its infrastructure, collaboration between utility and telecom companies is essential to mitigate these risks, safeguarding both human lives and the environment.

EKN Engineering offers an integrated approach to enhancing infrastructure safety and compliance which are helpful when navigating the challenges posed by the co-location of telecom equipment on utility poles. Through specialized solutions like asset health and asset monitoring, EKN enables real-time surveillance and comprehensive health assessments of utility poles and wires, crucial in preventing failures reminiscent of the Silverado, Malibu, and Lafayette incidents. Our expertise in civil and utility engineering underpins structural and electrical integrity assessments, while advanced data analytics facilitates predictive maintenance strategies. EKN's streamlined permit management and work verification solutions further ensure adherence to legal standards and regulations, enabling utility and telecom companies to be proactive against potential fire hazards associated with co-location practices.

Act, don't react.
Get actionable insights.