Superstorm Outages

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Millions along the East Coast awoke Tuesday without power or mass transit, as Superstorm Sandy marched slowly inland. The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 80 mph sustained winds.

It killed at least 33 people in nine states, cut power to more than 7.8 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Maine, caused scares at two nuclear power plants, and stopped the presidential campaign cold. More than 18,000 flights domestic and international were cancelled. While all the region’s telecom service providers were having problems, Verizon Communications, which serves many of the states in the hurricane’s path, appeared to have suffered some of the worst damage, reports Reuters.

New York City was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart in Lower Manhattan shuttered for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center.

C/Net’s Marguerite Reardon reports high winds and storm surge flooding have disrupted wireless, Internet and other communications services for many in Hurricane Sandy’s path.

All four of the major cell phone companies said subscribers in patches of their territories hit by the hurricane have been experiencing outages. AT&T (twitter), Verizon (twitter), Sprint (twitter) and T-Mobile (twitter) have assembled rapid response engineering teams.

This photo was taken the night of the flood in the lobby of one of Verizon’s primary Lower Manhattan facilities.

Telecom equipment requires power to operate. Batteries and generators help create some redundancy, but the power outages are so widespread in the tri-state area that networks will not escape getting hit. Many poles, power lines and Verizon cables are down throughout the region due to heavy winds and falling trees.

In New York City, residents in downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens complained that AT&T’s wireless service was unavailable. Meanwhile, customers further uptown had service continuously. AT&T confirmed that there were outages in some areas. And the company said it is working to assess the damage and fix the affected areas.

Google’s Crisis Map added power outage information to its thematic options. If you’re in the New York City area, their NYC-specific map has additional detail. Google Crisis Response seeks to make critical information more accessible around natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Google Person Finder allows people to check the status of loved ones while also providing relief organizations with a common back-end to store data.

Bayway, the second-largest refinery on the East Coast has suffered “some” flooding and a power outage from Hurricane Sandy, while two smaller plants also lost power, as glitches threaten to slow the recovery in fuel supplies.

Flooding and power outages have forced several New York data centers to switch to generator power. But those generators are quickly running out of fuel, so data center companies are telling their customers to shut down their servers and move workloads elsewhere.

One of the worst situations is at 75 Broad Street in Manhattan, where both Internap and Peer1 Hosting are shutting down operations “after basement-level flooding disabled critical diesel fuel pumps,” reports Data Center Knowledge.

East Coast electric companies say outages so far have hit more than 8.1 million homes and businesses, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported early on Tuesday.

Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey at about 8 p.m. EDT on Monday. A State of Emergency has been declared for Connecticut, Delaware, Washington D.C., Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.

New Jersey was the hardest hit state with about 2.5 million customers out, about 62 percent of the state total. Other hard hit states include Connecticut with 31 percent or 626,400 customers out; Rhode Island with 23 percent or 116,300 out; West Virginia with 21 percent or 212,100 customers out; New York with 21 percent or about 2 million out; Pennsylvania with 20 percent or 1.3 million out; and New Hampshire with 20 percent or 142,000 out.

Some 60 million people in 13 states plus the District of Columbia get their power from PJM, the largest regional power grid in the U.S.. Contingency plans call for power to be brought in from other areas to replace power lost if a nuclear plant reduces output or goes offline.

“It’s done instantaneously,” said Paula DuPont-Kidd, a spokeswoman for the grid. “Even if multiple plants go offline at the same time, we’d have to see how adjustments would be made, but for the most part we plan for that scenario.”

In August 2011, multiple nuclear plants shut down due to Hurricane Irene, with others reducing power.

Of the nation’s 48,000 distribution substations, less than half have any kind of automation , according to John McDonald, a past president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) and director of technical strategy and policy development at GE Energy’s Digital Energy business.

As a result, most utilities only learn of outages after receiving calls from customers, and then have to dispatch workers to the sites.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 at 9:54 am .

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