Don’t Get Left in the Dark – Be Ready for Winter Power Outages

Mother Nature has a way of dealing us surprises in winter, and among the aces up her flashlight_blogsleeve are weather-related power outages. Although we aggressively trim tree limbs near power lines and work to maintain reliability throughout the City, outages do occur. Here are some tips on how to be prepared for a power outage and avoid serious inconvenience.

  • Check your emergency preparedness kit for flashlights and fresh batteries
  • Have ice packs or plastic containers of water in your freezer to place in your refrigerator or a cooler to help keep food cold during an extended outage
  • Keep canned food on hand and have a manual can opener available
  • Keep some cash handy to buy ice or other necessities in case stores in an outage area are unable to process credit or electronic transactions
  • Have a battery-operated radio
  • Have a backup charging method for your phone or other mobile device such as an inexpensive vehicle USB adapter, battery power pack or solar power pack
  • Do not run your vehicle in a garage or enclosed space, or close to your home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, know where the manual release lever is located and test it before there is an outage
  • Surge protectors on your electronic equipment can guard against damage if a surge occurs when power is restored

Power outages are a fact of life during winter weather and we all should be prepared to safely cope with them. Fortunately, cell phones and other mobile devices that work without household power can give you access to websites and Twitter for information during a power outage or weather emergency.

More information on emergency preparedness and what to do during a power outage is available at www.ready.gov/power-outages and on our website. Updates during a widespread power outage are available by visiting us on Twitter or via our website.

Call 811 Before You Dig!

811Eng_ver_RGBThe last thing anyone wants is a dangerous surprise while making a home improvement. Buried pipes give us convenient delivery of natural gas, water and electricity, but they also pose a serious threat if they are hit during any type of digging. The hazards lurk in front yards as well as backyards, and a mistake may not only cost you repair expenses, fines, and inconvenience – it can cause serious injury or even death.

Calling 811 two business days before you (or your contractor) dig connects you to a free call center that will take your project information and notify local utilities of your intention to break ground. Each utility will come out to your location within two business days and mark all underground facilities with temporary flags or spray paint at no cost.

Hitting a buried high-voltage power line, fiber optic cable, natural gas line or water pipe can be avoided. So call 8-1-1 before you:

  • install a sidewalk, steps or deck
  • dig a hole for a hedge, tree or fence
  • excavate for a pool
  • start any other project such as putting in a mailbox or adding a fountain.

Federal law requires you to call 8-1-1 two business days before you dig, and it just makes sense to make the call and be sure your project goes without any surprises.

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.

His Best Pitch Was A Slider

As a right-handed pitcher in the Cleveland Indians pro baseball minor league system, Randy Rambis Baseball Card PhotoRandy Rambis was working his way up to the major leagues when a shoulder injury and surgery sidelined his career. Drafted by Cleveland out of California State University-Hayward, Randy pitched for teams in New York, Iowa and Tennessee.

Baseball’s loss was our gain. Randy went to work for the city in 1988, first in the Parks and Recreation Department and then as an electrician for SVP. Now, as one of our veteran troublemen who works on the front line, Randy often braves weather that would postpone a baseball game when he’s the first person on the scene of an outage.

Rambis sometimes has to make an evaluation and help with the decision on what to do next. He knows how to look for signals.

“I’ll patrol the power lines and look for fault indicators that can let us know where an outage problem is. Branches, birds, squirrels and balloons cause a lot of our outages.” Working in that environment, Rambis earns his rest days.

While road trips were not always the favorite part of the athlete’s job, Randy now uses them to get away with his wife Caryen. One of his best memories is a weeks-long drive through the Northwest and then the Midwest with no real itinerary. “Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) and Glacier National Park helped make it one of the best trips of my life.”

When he returns, he’s ready to take the mound for our customers. And with the ability to get electricity back on in a neighborhood, you might say he has his power delivery down pat.

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.

power outage by cause 2015

 

How do you get a dog to save the day from a power outage?

Our video on helium balloon safety featuring “Power Pup” is getting rave reviews. Other utilities have screened the work since it first appeared on Vimeo.

The artistic piece is 1:27 long (that’s 87 seconds) and was shot with a home video camera. Encouragement for this level of production value was the Academy Award winner “Searching for Sugar Man” which was partially shot on an iPhone using a $1.99 vintage film app.  

The stars and crew:

Power Pup is played by Lilly, a veteran of over 100 short videos. Lilly prepared for her role with Trainer/Director Mike Martinez, who engineered a dynamic jump as well as the classic stare down sequence.

Toddler, played by the cute South Bay native Mayson, is appearing in his first online role and 91st short video piece. Like all the talent, he donated his time for the public service video.

Mom, played by JoAnn, appears in her first short film after spending years behind the camera recording momentous video behind the scenesand not-so-momentous moments in her family life. 

Michael Martinez as Trainer/Director has created an iconic educational video in this, his third work released to the public. “We didn’t exactly have a huge choice of lenses to create the suspense and non-stop action, so we just moved around with the camera.”

Joe Couto was Production Manager, screen-writer and on-set photographer for the budget balloons in power lines with logoshoot. Joe also works on the visuals associated with our customer communications outreach such as bill inserts and customer collateral.

Josephine Voong, Creative Director, and chief editor illustrated the video’s storyboard and had a hand in all creative aspects. Josephine also does much of the creative art work found in our communications materials.

power Pup with logo
All in a day’s work for Lilly

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.

Balloon tent_card with logo.jpg