LEWIS — When the power went out in the Essex County Emergency Operations Center, emergency-preparedness workers wondered why they were sitting in the dark.
County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish trudged to the bowels of the Public Service Building in Lewis to find that the emergency generator they rely on had failed.
The fuel pump on the generator had malfunctioned, plunging them into darkness in the Operations Center during Hurricane Sandy’s arrival.
“During that time, we were out of power roughly an hour and 10 minutes — lost our phones, lost our computer systems; everything went dark, and actually, there were no emergency lights up there either,” Jaquish said.
“During an emergency, we simply can’t have the EOC going dark, and the only reason the 911 Center stayed up was because we have a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) system that keeps that operating … roughly seven to eight hours on the batteries.”
The 911 facility has 85 large wet-cell batteries that form a UPS that automatically switches in during blackouts.
The solution, Jaquish said, is to wire the industrial UPS into the Emergency Operations Center as well and get a second generator.
“An auxiliary generator would power up just the backup batteries, so that in the event this happened again, we wouldn’t go dark, either the 911 Center nor the EOC. I realize it’s kind of like a backup for a backup.”
The County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee unanimously authorized Jaquish to have the work done, and it gets a final vote at the board’s year-end meeting, which has been rescheduled for Monday due to today’s storm.
“I would think that would be absolutely necessary to have a dedicated generator for the EOC and the dispatch center, with a transfer switch hard-wired by itself,” Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said. “I think for a matter of life and safety, you should have that.”
Utility power from New York State Electric & Gas had not gone off during Hurricane Sandy, but as the bad weather moved in, a power failure had been anticipated and the switch was made to the generator. When it failed, they had difficulty transferring the circuits back to utility power, Jaquish said.
The irony was that the storm was much milder in the North Country than predicted, although New York City, Long Island and most of New Jersey were hammered.
There was a second generator in the specs for the building when it was being constructed, but it was taken out, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
“I think originally when the design was put in we really counted on the main generator being more reliable than it has been. We’ve had the manufacturer back at least a half dozen times. One of the problems with it is when the power outage is a short blip, it doesn’t restart — it goes off, and then we don’t get it back. It has been an ongoing issue.”
County Department of Public Works Superintendent Anthony LaVigne said he’s working on the issue and may have a surplus generator that can be used.
“We have one that’s currently in New York City on loan. It’s a 40 kilowatt. We’re doing an engineering study to see if that will take care of the problem.”
Emergency lighting is also being installed throughout the building now, including the adjacent County Jail.
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