Article by Paul Netter, Southern California Edison
Graduation was coming to an end, but the problems, well, they were just beginning.
A few minutes after the final diploma was awarded to Thousand Oaks High School one evening in June 2019, a metal balloon released by a participant floated into nearby power lines, causing a small explosion. It knocked out power to 3,683 homes and businesses and forced police to help graduates navigate repair crews.
Fortunately, no one was hurt given the public safety hazards the incident created. Southern California Edison experiences thousands of outages caused by balloons each year, including 1,103 last year. There’s no worse time than during the spring graduation months, with nearly a third of outages occurring in May (150) and June (181). As graduation season arrives with more in-person attendance, SCE urges those celebrating with metallic balloons to never release them outside and always keep them attached to a weight as required by state law.
“Think about that. In May and June, that’s almost six balloon failures a day,” said Adam Dow, senior director of operational risk management and public safety at SCE. are tied to a weight or kept indoors, especially during graduation season. These are completely preventable failures, and the released metal balloons create unnecessary risks.
The greatest risk comes when balloons float in electrical equipment and create startling explosions, especially when they bring down power lines – which happened in the Thousand Oaks graduation incident and 112 times last year.
Wiring situations can potentially lead to serious injury and even death, as well as fire and property damage. SCE reminds its customers to stay away and call 911 if they see any down lines.
However, the most prolific problem caused by released metal balloons is disruptive power outages which cost customers 480.6 hours of lost electricity last year. And, during the graduation incident, approximately 585 customers were without power for nearly 11 hours due to extensive restoration work.
It was telling for Lori Lyche, a mother attending her daughter’s graduation, who told the Acorn of a Thousand Oaks“It happened, and then it was over…I was just surprised a ball could do that.”
Except it wasn’t over. The explosion was followed by hours of inconvenience for customersthousands of dollars in repairs and, most disturbingly, a threat to public safety.
“Metal balloons look harmless but are dangerous when released outdoors,” Dow said. “Safety and keeping lights on are our highest priorities, and we urge our customers to be responsible by never, intentionally or unintentionally, releasing metallic balloons outdoors.”
Metal Balloon Safety Tips:
- Never release metallic balloons outdoors.
- Always tie a metal balloon to a sturdy table or weight.
- Keep balloons indoors when possible.
- Never attempt to retrieve balloons entangled in electrical equipment. Dial 911 instead.
- Pierce the balloons before throwing them.