Beware – Downed Power Lines Can Be Deadly!

Downed power lines are very rare, but they can cause serious injury or death. They usually Downed Power Lineoccur during extreme weather or when a vehicle strikes a power pole. If you see a power line down, call 911 or 408.615.5640 immediately to report the problem.

Our friends at Puget Sound Energy in Washington put together a great video about what to do in the event you are in a car and come across downed power lines. Helpful general safety guidelines about downed lines are provided by the Electrical Safety Foundation Institute:

  • You cannot tell whether or not a power line is energized just by looking at it. You should assume that all downed power lines are live.
  • If you see a downed power line, move away from it and anything touching it. The ground around power lines – up to 35 feet away – may be energized.
  • The proper way to move away from the power line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.
  • If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 for help.
  • Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it by using an object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth can conduct electricity if even slightly wet.
  • Be careful not to touch or step in water near where a downed power line is located.
  • Do not drive over downed power lines.
  • If your car comes in contact with a downed power line while you are inside, stay in the car. Honk your horn to summon help, but direct others to stay away from your car.
  • If you must leave your car because it is on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with both the car and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away from the car.

Again, check out the video from Puget Sound Energy and please share this information with others. It can keep them safe!

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When the West Coast Went Dark: What We Learned from Massive 1996 Power Outage

On August 10, 1996, a massive power outage struck Western North America, knocking out power in several U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California during a heat wave. In less than two hours, five high voltage power lines came into contact with trees in Oregon and Washington and a domino effect took out dozens of critical power lines as well as large electricity generating units from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada to New Mexico and Baja California. Since the nature of electricity is to flow in the most efficient direction (or path of least resistance), a tree can give it a way to flow straight to ground, interrupting power flow and causing breakers to trip when they sense a problem on the line. One such incident can impact a relatively small area, but a series of outages such as occurred in 1996 is a serious problem.

Power was out from a few minutes to six hours in California, according to a California Energy Commission survey, and the Union of Concerned Scientists says approximately 7.5 million people overall were affected by the power failure. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, those affected were located in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, and Mexico’s Baja California.

What we and other utilities learned from this outage is that we need to proactively address hazards. We know that tree limbs cause outages, and we know that old and outdated equipment such as power poles and cross arms can fail. Trimming tree limbs before problems occur has long been part of our ongoing commitment to reliable delivery of electricity.

That’s why we encourage our customers to let us know if they see a branch that appears too close to a power line; we’ll inspect it and trim it if it’s a problem. We’ve also hired a company to accelerate our continuing replacement of power poles and cross arms, many of which are over 40 years old.

This ongoing methodical program of maintenance and system upgrades will continue for a few years, and it will increase our reliability and decrease the possibility of an unexpected power outage that can be inconvenient at best and create dangerous traffic and health facility problems at worst.

Yes – YOU Can Prevent Power Outages

Power outages are a pain and inconvenience for just about everyone. The good news is that many outages can be prevented if we take care around power equipment.

Animals getting into power stations or power lines cause multiple outages every year. Often these animals are being fed on a regular basis by humans near power equipment, making the area attractive for creatures like squirrels and birds. Animals caused at least 17 outages in Santa Clara in 2015. In fact, the Washington Post this year had an article entitled “Are Squirrels a bigger threat to the power grid than hackers?” and linked to a CyberSquirrel1.com map of squirrel “attacks” in the U.S.

By not feeding wild animals like squirrels, people can discourage those critters from making their home in the vicinity of underground vaults or substations where they like to search for food or shelter. That can prevent power outages as well as save the lives of our furred and feathered friends.Balloon Photo Near Power Lines with logo

Helium balloons can wrap around power lines, pulling them close enough to each other that they arc and fail. Foil or “Mylar” balloons can also cause lines to “short out” and fail. Holding on tight to helium balloons just makes good sense. As the question asks in our balloon safety video, “Remember how much fun your last power outage was?” (Check out the “behind the scenes” look at the making of our video, too!)

Tree limbs near power lines are a major cause of power outages. If you see limbs close to an electrical line, call us at 408.615.6500.and we’ll schedule a pruning. Don’t wait. The next wind or rain storm could be the one that puts you in the dark.

Many power lines and other utility conduits are buried underground. Before you start digging or have someone else dig, call 8-1-1 to make sure you don’t get a nasty surprise while excavating a hole or trench.

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Why It’s a Great Idea to “Hold on Tight” to Helium Balloons

No one likes to suffer the consequences of a power outage, especially when that outage is completely avoidable. That’s why we’re pushing hard on a campaign to let people know that it’s wise to Keep the Light and Hold on Tight when enjoying those lively and lovely helium balloons.

Every year there are multiple power outages in Santa Clara caused by 20150322_171640.jpgwayward helium balloons caught in power lines that can darken traffic lights and hospitals and cost businesses thousands of dollars. So we decided to start an educational campaign to alert customers to the dangers of releasing foil or what you might call “Mylar” balloons.

We contacted local stores such as Safeway supermarkets and CVS pharmacies to start a partnership that benefited the stores, customers and the community. In addition to notifying local English language media, we also ran ads on local Vietnamese and Spanish language radio stations to reach as much of the local community as possible.

The primary message is “Keep the Light, Hold on Tight.”

The pilot program provided stores with a free supply of easily-attached Balloon Tagswarning tags for Valentines Day and the May-June Graduation, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day period. Both a written warning and a weight are required by state law for any foil balloon purchase. We also provided a triangular counter-top placard urging balloon buyers to “Keep balloons fun for everyone!”

We have plans to include even more retail outlets in 2016 to inform balloon buyers of their responsibility to hold onto their helium balloons.

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