Power Outages Dealing with the Dark

Northeasterners are a tough breed, but even they have to deal with dark days and nights—and they need an action plan in case of a blackout. This was evidenced by the blackout of 2003. In August of that year, a series of power failures overloaded the grid distributing electricity to the entire Northeastern United States, tripping circuit breakers at generating stations all the way to Canada, and triggering the largest blackout in the United States history. Though power was restored to much of the affected area within a day or so, millions of dollars in losses and damages were incurred, and serious questions arose about the state of the power grid serving that part of the country. As a result of the blackout, there were about 3,000 fire calls—most from candle use—and there were 80,000 emergency calls in New York City—more than double the average. 

Fast-forward to 2012, and Superstorm Sandy struck the region, knocking out electricity and water for millions of buildings and homes up and down the coast. More than 23,000 people sought refuge in temporary shelters, and more than 8 ½ million people lost power. 

The storm severely damaged or destroyed about 100,000 homes on Long Island. The impact of Sandy was much more drawn-out than the blackout of 2003—a week after the hurricane hit, more than 600,000 people in New York were still without power.

Know the Drill 

While events like these may not be controllable, having a clear, well-rehearsed emergency management plan for power outages in one’s condo is something every board can and should do. “We encourage building management to be proactive in educating their residents about what their plans are in an emergency, and about what their action plans will be,” says Ira Tannenbaum, assistant commissioner for public/private initiatives for the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM). “Power outages aren’t always forecast, so it’s not easy to put up a notification to tell people when the outage will be.”

Therefore, Tannenbaum says, the management needs to notify the building ahead of time about what they should do. This should include letting people know that there will be a building representative in the lobby who will answer questions. Residents should also be aware of which areas of the building that should be avoided due to emergency operations or hazards during a blackout, he says.

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