Energy Safe Kids, Learning from UGI and the National Energy Foundation
Did you know an energy superhero may live in your neighborhood? Their powers and abilities give them the energy to do more—more capacity to use energy responsibly, more vision to spot danger inside and outside your home, and quick-thinking skills to apply a simple code—preventing problems before they start. Disguised as a mild-mannered fourth-grade student, they know how to “Think!”, “Talk!” and “Take Action!” before danger can come to your home or neighborhood.
These superheroes are called Energy Safe Kids, and their skills are honed through the collaborative efforts of UGI Utilities and the National Energy Foundation (NEF). This past fall, 3,739 fourth-grade students and 157 teachers in 41 schools throughout Pennsylvania were educated in energy safety and the power of natural gas. NEF educators conducted 65 presentations in the suburban areas surrounding Northumberland, Reading, Harrisburg, Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton. Students were treated to games, workbooks and interactive learning designed to sharpen their “superhero” senses to detect danger. Students discovered how to detect natural gas leaks and alert authorities by calling 911.
The program, which is now in its 20th year, corresponds with the Pennsylvania Health, Safety and Physical Education requirements as well as Environment and Ecology curriculum for the fourth-grade. Students and their teachers study how and why natural gas forms, and to respect the boundaries of safety that go along with harnessing this energy. Children learn that the energy used to heat homes and schools, cook meals and provide clean, hot water is sourced from underground, and the connecting pipelines pose a potential danger when digging. They also discover how to protect and maintain furnaces, hot water heaters, pilot lights and meters, keeping them free from, dirt, debris, clutter and potentially flammable materials.
“Kids can serve as a conduit to take the [safety] materials home to siblings, parents and others in the home,” said Swope. “Hopefully that safety method spreads.”
By far one of the largest and most rewarding part of the classroom exercise is the introduction of the simple, yet powerful code of 811 with the slogan “Know What’s Below” and “Call before you Dig”. Classroom superheroes realize that 811 is almost as good as having x-ray vision to see underground. They discover something as simple as planting a tree or putting in a mailbox, or as complex as new building construction has the potential to bring danger or power outages to the area unless experts are called in to mark safe digging spots.
Damage from underground digging without calling 811 is “very significant,” said Swope. “There is a lot of damage done to underground pipes by individuals and contractors.”
UGI sponsors a yearly 811 poster contest with a winner in both the north and south areas of service. Student grand-prize winners receive a Chromebook and honorable mention winners receive a Kindle Fire HD 8. In January 2019, grand-prize awards were given at Clearview Elementary in Bethlehem and Winding Creek Elementary in Mechanicsburg. Honorable mentions were awarded at Heights Terrace Elementary in Hazelton and Brandywine Heights Intermediate in Topton.
Knowledge is power, and students are equipped by UGI-sponsored instructors to go home and complete a Household Safety Scan. Students and teachers are rewarded with small prizes when the surveys are returned. Last year the 2,175 returned surveys showed the households almost equally divided as to using electricity or gas to heat their homes. Of the Household Safety Surveys returned, 35.4 percent of respondents (771 households) were unaware of the 811 “Call Before You Dig” number. Another surprising statistic is that 27.3 percent (594 households) do not have carbon monoxide detectors installed in their homes. Armed with their knowledge of their newly-educated superheroes, one can only imagine how many lives are safer thanks to the Energy Safe Kids program.
“Everything was great from the bingo, to the slides, and having the kids come up to show their super powers,” said one of the educators surveyed after the program.
While this generation of superheroes takes their safety knowledge out into the world, UGI’s “Touch-a-Truck” program is coming this spring and summer to train a new generation of energy recruits. Since the program’s inception in 2015, UGI trucks and repair vehicles have appeared at fairs and other outdoor venues, allowing children of all ages a chance to climb on and into the driver’s seat. UGI employees are on-hand to supervise, answer questions, promote safety and hand out gear and games about energy in the neighborhood. Last year the “Touch-a-Truck” event took place in twelve locations, this year UGI hopes to expand the program and continue to have a presence at events at Good Shepherd Academy in Kingston, Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland, Bloomsburg Children’s Museum and The Junior League in Scranton and Reading.
We love participating in these events,” said Janet Stochla, UGI Public Safety Administrator. “The kids sometimes associate the gas/electric companies with gas odors or power outages and with us being at these events the kids get an up-close look at the vehicles and get to meet us, they can associate UGI in a positive manner.”