A complex mechanical device may not be the ultimate protection in case of power failure, an upstate New York town found. When Hurricane Sandy threatened to move inland, the northeast New York town of Lewis’ emergency operations center switched to its backup generator — and went dark. Switching back to commercial power, which was still available, turned out to be a problem.
A fuel filter problem in their generator was found to be the cause, but by that time the lesson was well learned. Discussions later centered on several solutions, including industrial UPS systems which would provide simple, stable power for phone systems, telecom equipment, and the emergency operations center as a whole, and would come on-line immediately.
Homeowners in areas with frequent power outages or the danger of weather-related power problems often have a generator handy to ride out storms. What town officials learned, however, is that familiar solutions don’t always scale to commercial and industrial challenges, and careful system design and review are necessary when the safety of the public is at stake.
In the case of Lewis, an additional generator was still on loan to New York city and unavailable for use, emphasizing the need for periodic review as well as system design checkout. While hurricane risk to the area may be smaller than for some coastal communities, consideration of other situations such as heavy snowfall or icing might guide future preparations.
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