As a follow up to my blog posted only a month ago, “Storm Preparedness for Your Facility: Don’t Wait for the Forecast”, I literally had no idea how quickly many of us on the eastern seaboard of the United States would have to heed at least some of my advice. Just as my article began, what looked like a weak tropical storm, Category 1 hurricane that often fizzles out as they move north. Well, Isaias remained a strong storm all the way up the coast, and hit the NY-NJ-CT region hard. As I write this, hundreds of thousands of customers in the region remain without power, it has been about a week.
It is evident the biggest issue in a storm’s aftermath is power failures and how to best deal with them. One of tenets of my article was to completely understand how your facility (and home) will operate on standby power. With the hot, humid weather we’ve been experiencing this summer, lack of power can create a miserable experience. My own home has a standby system, but it cannot support the central air conditioning system that I cherish. It had me scrambling for a room sized air conditioner that I knew my small generator could handle. I ultimately failed to find that small A/C unit but found a good old fashioned fan that kept me cool. In large buildings, with inoperative windows, lack of ventilation will render the building quickly uninhabitable. Luckily, power was restored to my home after two full days, 15 gallons of gasoline and lots of running around to keep things energized.
I bring my experience to this blog to illustrate that I have been through multiple, week long power failures. I understand how my system works and long ago made the price trade-off between a small, partial and inexpensive standby power system versus a full house generator that automatically senses a power failure, runs off the natural gas line, and shuts off when normal power is restored. In fact, that type of system will cost 10 times or more what was spent for my roll out generator and transfer switch, that was properly installed by a licensed electrician. With my system, parts of the house remain dark, the kitchen is partially disabled and not all of the wall plugs are energized. However, heat, water, refrigeration, cooking and lighting are sufficient to stay in the house as long as gasoline can be found. Lastly, I am the only one in my family that can operate the system, so that may be a big drawback if I am not in the area during a power failure. We do however understand the risk and inconveniences of keeping this system the way it is.
The message here is to realize that power failures can last significantly longer than expected. Know your limits as to how long you can remain in your home, even with a generator set up. Understand that if conditions are bad enough, you may not be able to get fuel for the generator, and even simple machines can fail. Plan to have a day or two of fuel on hand and some basic spare parts.
Last month, I also mentioned that trees should be a major concern. This was validated by the fact that nearly all of the power failures were caused by trees. Some homes and businesses were damaged by trees and at least one fatality in New York City occurred as a large tree fell on a van, killing an occupant. As a property owner or operator, you have the opportunity to assess the trees on your property and with the help of experts, decide the safest course of action. Realistically, there is no way to eliminate the risk that trees present to life, property and power, but it can be reduced by pruning or cutting overgrown or diseased trees.
We still have several months remaining of hurricane season here on the east coast. This storm was a good reminder what can happen during and after a storm. A little preparation can go a long way, and can turn a catastrophic weather event into a minor inconvenience. Let us know if we can help you with understanding your facility and your storm planning resources.
Written by: Paul Liesman, VP of Engineering