When the NorthEast Power Grid Trips, Interlinked Networks Stumble As Well
The blackout that knocked out powerplants in six states and Ontario also triggered major disruptions in large segments of the transportation and water and wastewater treatment systems. Grounded planes in Canada and the U.S. stranded hundreds of thousands of air travelers in dark terminals. Millions of people that normally get home via New York Citys subway system or commuter rail lines scrambled to find alternate means when electrified lines went dead at the start of rush hour Aug. 14.
When the New York City subway systems famed third rail lost power, some 350,000 riders were trapped. After reaching safety, riders complained about the absence of emergency lighting along catwalks and in staircases. The system resumed full service by Saturday.
Toronto also phased in its systems return. "We rely on power from 40 substations," says Marilyn Bolton, a Toronto Transit Commission spokeswoman.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey restored its trans-Hudson subway service to normal service by Friday. This was possible in large part because of a backup generator in Jersey City, where power was restored faster than in Manhattan, says Steve Coleman, an authority spokesman.
The agencys marine terminals, mostly on the Jersey side near Newark and Elizabeth, saw minimal impact to shipping traffic. "We increased patrols as a security precaution on the Great Lakes and the New York waterways, but our operational centers and command centers, including vessel tracking for ships, all have backup power," says Jolie Shisslet, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson. "There were some drawbridges in the Great Lakes that were stuck in the down position but nothing that lasted long enough to impact shipping."
Amtraks electrified Northeast Corridor trains stranded 18,000 riders. The Metro-North and Long Island Railroad commuter lines made limited use of diesel locomotives. Commuter lines have uninterrupted power systems, comprising "a tremendous array of batteries that can provide power for up to six hours to keep [controls and signals] going until the problem is corrected," says Don Nelson, a consultant with The Washington Groups New York City office and former president of Metro-North. But the batteries are intended to preserve safety components, not propel trains.
Aviation industry engineers expect that more airports will now be looking at beefier power emergency systems, particularly for screening and baggage handling. "Its a budget issue," says Susan Kessler, associate partner with the Syska Hennessy Group, New York City. The new $939-million terminal at Indianapolis that Syska Hennessy is designing will have emergency power, she says.
Hunter Fulghum, manager of business development with Turner Construction Co., New York City, says some airports already have "very extensive emergency power systems in place." Turner is on the Boeing team that holds an ongoing contract to help more than 400 airports meet U.S. guidelines for baggage screening. "Some of the machines we installed do come with emergency systems with the basic package," Fulghum says. But he notes that availability depends on the airport and situation.
The blackout "will push the drive toward more [backup] systems on a broader scale," Fulghum says. "As we move to full integrated solutions, undoubtedly airports will have full emergency systems, whether custom-built or already existing."
Cleveland, Detroit and New York City had problems with water or wastewater treatment systems. Officials say New Yorks gravity-fed drinking water network fared well, but the wastewater treatment system spilled nearly half a billion gallons of untreated effluent into New York Harbor over two days. A Manhattan pump station designed to push 100 million gal per day of effluent to Brooklyns 310-mgd Newtown Creek treatment plant dumped its load into the East River because pumps were off line.
Backup diesel generators failed at Brooklyns 60-mgd Red Hook treatment plant and Manhattans 170-mgd North River facility, says Charles G. Sturcken, spokesman for New York Citys Dept. of Environmental Protection. As a result, DEP will review operation and maintenance procedures, Sturcken says. The city also plans to expand the pump station and add backup generation, as part of the Newtown plant upgrade.
The Midwest systems lacked grav-itys advantage. All four of Clevelands 400,000-gal capacity water treatment plants were knocked off line simultaneously. Power was restored within 24 hours, but startup was a slow process.
"We pump uphill. If you dont have power you are going to have problems," says Alex Margevichius, assistant commissioner of engineering for the Cleveland Division of Water.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District lost service from three treatment plants with capacities ranging from 28 to 110 mgd. All three plants were back in service within 15 hours, says Tim Tigue, director of operations and maintenance. One plant east of the city discharged approximately 4 million gal of raw sewage into Lake Erie.
Detroit lost all five water treatment plants and its massive wastewater treatment plant. Three of the water treatment plants were back up within three hours and all were running Saturday. But the Health Dept.s precautionary water boiling edict prompted the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. to re-examine its requirements for backup generators.
Click below for more articles>>