February 13, 2006

Metallic balloons released outdoors can cause power outages and ruin a special day

ROSEMEAD, Calif., Feb. 13, 2006–It’s traditionally regarded as a special occasion, one that engenders feelings of romance, nostalgia, and affection, but Valentine’s Day also can be a series of “heartaches” for customers, Southern California Edison (SCE), and other electric utilities.

For Valentine’s Day, SCE is preparing to respond to a rash of entirely preventable power outages caused by what most people regard as a simple gift or decoration that few give a second thought to: metallic balloons, many of them heart-shaped, shiny, and red.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been plagued in recent years on Valentine’s Day with a number of power outages caused by metallic balloons floating into power lines and electrical equipment,” said Ron Ferree, SCE’s director of grid operations.   “All of these outages could have been prevented if people had simply handled their balloons properly.”

The number of metallic balloon-caused power outages has risen sharply in California in recent years and spikes alarmingly in February around Valentine’s Day. SCE experienced a record 414 balloon-caused service interruptions in 2005, up from 395 in 2004.   Over a five-year period—2000 through 2005—a total of 157 balloon-caused outages occurred during the month of February, with 35 occurring last February.

Metallic and nonmetallic balloons can knock out service when they float into power lines.  The high-voltage electricity can arc across the balloons, causing a short circuit, which can burn down wire, damage equipment, and interrupt service.
“We want everyone to enjoy Valentine’s Day, but we also want to recommend that people keep metallic balloons indoors and that they keep them tightly secured if they do take them outdoors,” said Ferree.  “This very preventable cause of service interruptions affected more than 16,000 of our customers last year on Feb. 13, 14, and 15.  With power lines down, traffic signals out, machinery not functioning, and people trapped in elevators, public safety was needlessly compromised.”

Among the communities suffering balloon-caused interruptions last Valentine’s Day were Carson, East Los Angeles, Rialto, Lancaster, Irwindale, and Downey.

“Of course, if the power goes out, we’ll get the service back as quickly and as safely as possible,” said Ferree.  “But, if customers responsibly handle metallic balloons, it’ll help us keep the lights on.”

SCE recommends these simple safety rules for handling metallic balloons:

  • Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon—or any foreign object—tangled in power lines.  Instead, call SCE at 1-800-611-1911 and report the problem.
  • Keep metallic balloons indoors, and never release them outside.
  • Never attach metallic streamers to any balloon—latex or metallic.
  • Never bundle metallic balloons together.
  • Be sure to secure a helium-filled balloon with a weight heavy enough to prevent it from drifting away.  (It is unlawful to sell metallic balloons without a string weight.)
  • Never go near a downed or dangling wire.  Keep others away and contact the police or fire department and call SCE at 1-800-611-1911 for assistance.

More information on safety and a host of other topics can be found at www.sce.com.  A downloadable photo of a metallic balloon near power lines is available at http://www.edison.com/pressroom/image_gallery.asp.

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An Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving a population of more than 13 million via 4.6 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within central, coastal and Southern California.