Meter Mechanic Specialist Rumsey communicates the metering-point revenue protection basics to new meter readers at ComEd, a division of Exelon Corporation that provides service to 3.5 million customers in northern Illinois. “My main goal is to try to get meter readers to open their eyes to different signs of tampering,” explains the metering veteran. In addition to helping the utility and honest customers when they discover fraud, meter readers help themselves: the ComEd revenue program includes commissions for meter readers.
Rumsey’s version of Meter Tampering 101 is an hour-long program for new meter readers who have made it through ComEd’s week-long Meter Pro training. “I speak to the ones who graduate from that class, because not everybody who starts on Monday makes it to Friday,” Rumsey explains. A ComEd metering professional since 1979, Rumsey has been lending his expertise to the education program since 1999.
Keeping honest people honest
Vigilance is lesson number one. “I get them to watch for warning signs, especially the seals,” says Rumsey. “I say to the meter readers, seals keep honest people honest. Those seals are a great way to see if anybody has been in there and done things. In order to do things, either inside the meter or inside the fitting, you have to get past that seal first. I actually tamper with seals, bring them in and pass them around to the class to show them how most people tamper with seals.”
The color system
ComEd uses E.J. Brooks wire and plastic seals in an array of colors. Brown indicates that an energy technician installed the meter or was the last one at the fitting. Beige seals are carried by the meter readers – they indicate that the meter fitting or the ring was not sealed when the meter reader arrived. (Establishing this is an important link in the chain of evidence.) A rose-colored seal tells the meter reader the customer has been disconnected for non-payment. A rust-colored seal tells ComEd that the operating department or a contractor installed the meter. The final color, Rumsey explains, is yellow, which indicates there has been tampering at this location before. “I tell the meter readers, if you see yellow, use a little more scrutiny on that meter.”
When power has been disconnected, watch out, says Rumsey. “Our number-one type of tampering is people self-restoring. So I tell the meter readers to look for signs of usage when they see the rose seal. If the disk is spinning and there’s a rose seal, look to see if the seal is broken. If the disk is not spinning, look at the house for signs of usage.” In explaining the benefits of close observation, Rumsey uses his house as an example. “If you’re at my house, you can see the ceiling fan through the window. If it’s on, and the disk is not spinning, you know there’s a problem.”
He describes the disconnection process. “When we disconnect power for non-payment, we put plastic sleeves on the load-side bayonets of the meter and the electricity can’t get through. If a rose seal is present and the meter disk is spinning, the customer has cut the seal, removed the sleeves and reinstalled the meter. If a rose seal is present and the disk is not spinning but customer usage is observed, the customer has cut the seal, left the sleeves on the meter, and jumpered from the line side to the load side. Those are the people that are a little bit harder to catch.”
One step ahead
While the other meter mechanic specialists test meters to verify accuracy for field use, the focus of Rumsey’s job is checking out meters that have been tampered with. “The meter people send the meters to me in a locked basket; we maintain chain of evidence. The meter comes to me and I determine how or if it was tampered with.”
Tom Rumsey, ComEd's Meter Mechanic Specialist,
a metering pro since 1979
Rumsey sees examples of the power thieves’ handiwork in the meter shop every day. “I’ve been seeing things like this: the customer cut the seal, pulled the meter out, used electrical tape on one of the load-side bayonets and jumpered out that phase. So what they are doing is cutting their air conditioning bill in half. These are the types of thing I tell meter readers to watch for.”
Another example: “A meter came in, and the tech said it was defective. I went over this meter with a fine-tooth comb, and found that the tamperer was extremely clever. It was an older kWh meter; he removed the A phase line-side cotter pin. What that did was it broke the connection to the potential coil. If the potential coil is de-energized, the meter stops. Then he could cause the meter to work again by replacing the cotter pin. It was pretty clever. Those are the people that are harder to catch; when they stop the meter altogether, they’re easier to catch.”
Part of his work is staying one step ahead of the thieves. “I try to invent ways to mess with the meter. A vendor came to us with a new meter; it was the first time we had seen this type of meter. I asked him about tampering problems, and he told me: ‘In order to tamper, you need the software and only we have the software.’” Rumsey decided to see for himself. “I took one of the meters into my tampering room, and in about 30 seconds I figured out how to slow the meter and how to stop it. That’s part of what’s exciting about my job – I can figure things out.
“I’ve had an awful lot of jobs in this company. I’ve done transformers. I’ve done store rooms, supplies. Out of all the jobs I’ve had, this is the most exciting. I’ve got to use my brain constantly.”
Is the energy-theft problem worse today than it was a decade ago? “I don’t know if the problem of theft is growing,” says Rumsey, “but it looks to me like we’re detecting more types of tampering due to better communication and meter reader education.” He’s pleased to play a role in that improvement: “I’m still out preaching this good word.”
Reprinted from Utility News, published by E.J. Brooks Company, Livingston, NJ