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Blackout - System Failures and Action Plan

posted Jul 18, 2019, 7:08 AM by Marc Donner

West Side Blackout

As you all know by now, there was a blackout on the evening of July 13.  The blackout began at 6:47 p.m., according to news reports of a Con Ed press release, and ended sometime about 10 p.m.

Geographically, the blackout extended from 72nd Street down to somewhere in the 40s and from Fifth Avenue west to the Hudson River.  The New York Times quotes Con Ed as attributing the failure to a problem at a substation on West 49th Street.

The Cogen System

Our electricity cogeneration system is designed to provide emergency power to the building in cases when the power grid goes down.  It is configured to ensure that one elevator on each side of the building is operational during a blackout, as well as lights in the main lobby, the stairways, and in the elevator lobbies on each floor from two up.

Building staff conduct regular tests of this capability three times each year.

To our dismay, the cogen system was out of service during the blackout.  We are investigating the reasons for this outage with our maintenance vendor.

The Emergency Lighting System

Both sets of stairs in the building are equipped with emergency lighting systems powered by batteries that are kept charged while grid power is available.

These batteries are rated to keep the lights on for two hours during a power outage.

We have heard reports that these lights were out from shortly after the power outage began.

These lights are supposed to be tested by LTCA Security staff on their regular vertical inspections of our stairways.

We intend to find out whether these batteries are discharging faster than their two-hour rating, resulting in a system that passes the standard test but fails under real conditions, or if there is some other failure at play.

The Elevators

When we renovated the elevators several years ago we upgraded the traction motors that raise and lower the cars.

In the process we implemented a safety system, required in new elevator installations, designed to lower each car to a nearby floor and open the doors in the event of a power outage or other failure.

In Saturday’s outage the elevators did correctly lower themselves to the nearest lower floor, but they did not open their doors as expected, thus trapping people in various cars and requiring intervention by building staff.

We are working with our elevator maintenance company to understand why the doors failed to open automatically.

Front Desk Telephones

Residents attempting to call the front desk during the blackout were unable to get through.

We do not know precisely what failure happened to cause this.  We have had reports that the blackout affected cellphone service, so providing the front desk with a cellphone might not have helped things.

We have also had reports that, unlike in past eras, the blackout interrupted land line service as well.

In some cases this may be because the FIOS and other services that have replaced the old copper landline service in our building have been installed without battery backup or because the batteries have failed.  Each resident is responsible for their own unit’s battery backup, so you should consult your phone service vendor.

The building needs a reliable way for residents to reach the front desk under all circumstances and we intend to investigate the reported failures and work with our telephone service providers to identify and implement a solution that enables us to ensure the ability to reach the front desk at all times.

Thank you to Jose and our staff!

The board would like to express particular gratitude on behalf of all of our residents to Jose and his building staff for their excellent response to this blackout.  They mobilized rapidly, they checked in with many elderly residents to ensure their comfort and safety, they walked residents up the stairs with flashlights, and they were just generally wonderful!