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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Nine Seconds, Eight States , 50 Million Blind

    America’s northeastern seaboard took an early leave from work on August 14 when the largest power outage in history left more than 50 million people in the dark. Stony Brook summer residents and summer camp participants waited for more than a day before power returned to the campus. University Hospital survived with the help of generators through what Suffolk County EMS deemed a “Signal 1,” or disaster/severe emergency.

    “There were no security problems, no one was hurt, no crimes were reported, and there were no accidents [during the blackout],” said Douglas Little, Deputy Chief of the University Police.

    All emergency services were on call during the incident, and communication was maintained through the Emergency Operations Center’ (EOC) that was immediately put into effect once the blackout occurred.

    According to Gary Kaczmarczyk, Emergency Management Coordinator, classes were cancelled immediately and buildings without lights were cleared by security. Little and Kaczmarczyk accredit the maintenance of safety to the work of the EOC.

    “We were able to secure the safety of the Stony Brook community through cooperation with EHS (Emergency Health Services) and UPD (University Policed Deparment),” said Ann Teng, Chief of Operations in the Stony Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “For the future, I would like to have a backup generator so that our pagers would work for extended periods of time. If it had taken longer for power to come back, our equipment would have failed.”

    While Stony Brook has its own physical plant on West Campus that powers the hospital, campus and veteran’s home, the plant failed to run because it lacked supplemental power it needs from LIPA to run effectively.

    “We have a co-generation facility on campus that generates steam and electric power,” Little said.’ “But it needs power from LIPA to kick it off.’ Since it didn’t get that power, it wasn’t working.’ But once it got that power from LIPA, it started working at 8 p.m.”

    Bruce Germano, Vice President for Retail Services at LIPA, dealt with issues that arose with Stony Brook University and University Hospital.

    “This event was clearly something that no one had anticipated,” Germano said. “When you loose all power, you need power to restart the system. We had diesel engines that are self-powered, and we needed to get them started first.”

    While LIPA was able to get electricity back to much of the Brookhaven township, the university and hospital could not be put online because of problems that arose at the Physical Plant.

    “When you loose all the load, the generators turned off,” said Germano. “Simply putting it, you’re dealing with one machine that failed. LIPA sent people to the University to help repair the unit, and with the cooperation and help from the University officials we were able to get the system running by Friday.”

    Even with the problems that arose with repairs, Patrick Calabria, Director of Communications for the Health Sciences Center, said that the hospital faired very well considering the circumstances.

    “There were no outstanding incidents and we were able to treat all the patients that came in,” Calabria said. “We have an emergency preparedness plan that kicked in with the help of the EOC. We even maintained patient visiting hours.”

    Though Stony Brook evaded immediate threats to its population, it suffered several financial losses during the one-day period. The FSA reported a loss of $13,500 from food spoilage. Dietary Services estimates another $3,500 loss.

    “By the time the blackout hit, most food was already prepared for dinner,” said Angela Agnello, Director of Marketing and Communications for Faculty Student Association (FSA). “The perishable food items that were frozen were barbequed and served to RA’s and Summer Camps. Anyone who came to the SAC was redirected to pick up sandwiches that we had prepared.”

    Food deliveries on Friday were placed with the assistance of J. King’s, a private company that rented out freezer trucks to transport food on a meal-by-meal basis. Next year, the FSA will work a generator into its budget with the help of Executive Director Kevin Kelly, Agnello said.

    “We hope to have a generator for either the SAC, because of it’s central location, or Kelly, because it has more storage,” Agnello said. “We want to prevent this from happening again. We were prepared this time because we have emergency planning drills every year on how to serve food safely if there is no electricity.”

    Officials who worked to confront the crisis stressed the importance of effective communication throughout the emergency. Germano and Bret Cunningham, Vice President of Communications at LIPA, explained that University Hospital, Stony Brook University, and LIPA will have teams working together to understand exactly what went wrong in order to prevent a reoccurrence.

    “We had to deal with something no one had every seen,” Cunningham asserted. “We understand the importance of the university and hospital and we’re all working together on how to improve the system.”

    “The entire blackout took 9 seconds. No amount of human intervention would have prevented that,” Germano said.’ “There were lessons learned, and we’re on top of this working actively to find solutions for the future.”

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