Powerco’s school safety campaign aims to keep children safe around electricity networks. The programme, which targets primary school children up to the age of 10, is fronted by a cartoon mascot called Sparky.
Powerco’s objective was to reach as many schools as possible and deliver its safety message in a fun, interactive format. It had to keep messages relevant and short to minimise school disruption.
Sparky and a presenter visit during assembly and perform a 10-minute skit. The children are taught to avoid powerlines, not to climb power poles or pylons, never to sit on transformer boxes, and not to run after balls that land near substations.
Powerco believes that if children are aware of the dangers associated with its network, they will more likely avoid hazards or ask an adult for help. Although the risk of children being injured this way is low, the resulting injuries would be serious.
Powerco sees a secondary benefit from children passing on Sparky’s messages to siblings and parents, which will reinforce a wider public safety message. Consequently, the campaign won the Electricity Engineers’ Association Public Safety Award for 2015.
The programme began in Taranaki and launched in Tauranga in 2015. Powerco has visited 67 schools so far, delivering its safety message to more than 15,000 children. The company plans to extend it to Manawatu and Wairarapa, and has a long-term goal to share Sparky with other distribution companies.
Sparky is gathering a reputation and is visible on billboard, bus and cinema advertising. The mascot also made an appearance at Christmas parades in Papamoa and New Plymouth. Powerco believes that press surrounding Sparky has raised a positive profile for the business as a whole.
In October 2015 Powerco launched a companion website with games, activities and a learning centre. Children can also get in touch with Sparky via email.
Powerco initially engaged a PR company to develop a safety campaign for children. Moving the process in-house reduced costs and also facilitated heavy staff engagement with the Sparky message. Employees and their children were guinea pigs for the skit, and were gifted a book to share Sparky with their families.
The company credits the success of the programme to school support. Many principals have requested more prominent signage on assets near their schools following the presentation. Powerco also received a call from three young Katikati boys to inform them of a faulty transformer door, after Sparky had visited.
Powerco is one of two dual-energy distributors in New Zealand and is the second largest electricity utility and largest gas distribution company. Its networks cover the upper-central and lower North Island at a combined length of over 38,000 kilometres. The company aims to be a leader in public safety education, and safety forms one of its core value statements.
The Community Initiative of the Year award category is sponsored by PEPANZ