From Mother's Day to Graduations, Don't Let Metallic Balloons Inflate Power Outages

With proms also celebrated, keep the colorful gifts tied down and never let them float away to help prevent property damage and serious injuries

May 09, 2014 | By Paul Netter

The arrival of May brings celebrations of Mother’s Day, graduations and proms.

It also traditionally brings a spike in power outages from metallic balloons used to celebrate those joyous occasions, but end up released and in power lines during National Electrical Safety Month.

“The rise in power outages in May could easily be avoided if metallic balloons were handled more responsibly outdoors,” said Don Neal, director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety at Southern California Edison (SCE).

That responsibility begins with keeping the balloons tied to a weight heavy enough to prevent them from floating away as required by law and never releasing them outdoors.

“People should keep the balloons indoors, if at all possible, but they should never remove that weight no matter where the balloons are kept,” said Neal. “It is absolutely the best way to prevent them from getting loose and into power lines.”

In May and June, the balloons usually land in power lines much more often than other months, causing 116 and 110 outages, respectively, last year for SCE in those months. In June 2012, SCE suffered the most balloon outages in the past five years with 126. There were 91 that May.

In addition, 37.3 percent (970) of SCE’s balloon-related outages over the last five years (2,604) have come in May and June. To compare, 20.5 percent (534) of balloon outages came in the next highest months of February and March in that span.

“Unsecured metallic balloons can float for miles before drifting into power lines, transformers and substations,” said Neal. “It takes only one to disrupt the lives of thousands of people.”

Disruptions are felt by drivers who encounter heavy traffic because of inoperable stoplights to people doing routine tasks at home, riding elevators and performing errands such as shopping and refueling their automobiles, to name a few.

Perhaps the most serious issue is when the balloon contact is explosive enough — there is usually a loud bang followed by a disintegrated balloon when one hits a power line — that it causes the power line to sever and dangle or fall to the ground. This presents a major fire and safety threat and typically prolongs an outage.

If balloons ever lead to dangling or downed power lines — even if they appear not to be live — do not touch or approach them and call 911 immediately.

In addition, no one should ever try to retrieve a balloon — or any foreign object — caught in power lines or poles. Instead, call SCE at 800-611-1911. Balloons should never be released to discard them. Instead, you should puncture them several times or cut the knot with scissors and throw them in the garbage.

“Our top priority is safety and keeping the lights on,” said Neal. “If the public can practice good judgment and never release balloons outdoors, we will all benefit because the balloon you release could potentially disrupt your own community.”

Topics: Safety