By Megan McFarland
With graduation season in full swing, PG&E is warning customers about the public safety risks associated with helium-filled metallic balloons: If your graduation celebration involves balloons, make sure they are secured with a weight. Otherwise they can float away and come into contact with overhead power lines, causing a public safety risk.
In the first five months of 2017, metallic balloons striking electric lines have caused nearly 132 power outages in PG&E’s service area alone, disrupting service to more than 76,000 customers. These power outages can interrupt electric service to critical facilities such as hospitals, schools and traffic lights. PG&E typically sees a spike in the number of outages caused by metallic balloons during the graduation season.
“It may look fun and festive to release balloons in the air during graduation ceremonies, but when helium-filled metallic balloons come into contact with overhead lines they can cause a widespread power outage,” said Pat Hogan, senior vice president, PG&E Electric Operations. “PG&E encourages grads to celebrate safely by keeping metallic balloons secured with weights.”
Metallic balloons have a silvery coating, which is a conductor for electricity. If the balloons float away and make contact with power lines, they can short transformers, cause power outages and melt electrical wires, causing public safety risks. Last year, a homecoming parade in the North Coast turned dark after a group of metallic balloons slipped away from a float and hit a power line, which came down energized. More than 2,700 customers lost power for most of the day and the homecoming dance was cancelled.
To help ensure that graduation balloon celebrations are enjoyed responsibly, PG&E reminds customers to follow these important balloon safety tips:
- “Look Up and Live!” Use caution and avoid celebrating with metallic balloons near overhead electric lines.
- Make sure helium-filled metallic balloons are securely tied to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Never remove the weight.
- Keep metallic balloons indoors, when possible. For everyone’s safety, never permit metallic balloons to be released outside.
- Do not bundle metallic balloons together.
- Never attempt to retrieve any type of balloon, kite or toy that becomes caught in a power line. Leave it alone, and immediately call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 to report the problem.
- Never go near a power line that has fallen to the ground or is dangling in the air. Always assume downed electric lines are energized and extremely dangerous. Stay far away, keep others away and immediately call 911 to alert the police and fire departments.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.