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Danger in the Reconnect

Behind the Bricks Winter 2013 Newletter Banner

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Cables snaked out of the mains toward the Federal Building at 201 Varick St as crews worked to reconnect power.
Cables snaked out of the mains toward the Federal Building
at 201 Varick St as crews worked to reconnect power.

Federal Space 

A massive explosion at a Con Edison substation on 14th Street knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers in lower Manhattan, and to much of the federal community on October 29, during the peak of Superstorm Sandy.

PBS was as ready as possible, having already ordered a pre-emptive power down of all equipment. Breakers and elevators were set to sleep-and-rest positions, leaving emergency power for mission critical systems and functions. The Service Centers had stocked our facilities days in advance of the storm with pumps and generators, which were at the ready throughout lower Manhattan. Building Managers had coordinated teams of mechanical contractors, restoration crews and janitorial staff so that when the storm hit we were ready to take immediate action.

While Con Edison completed the painstaking process of restoring and testing the power grid, PBS did everything possible to get our buildings systems-ready by organizing teams of engineers to enter and assess each federal building. The teams climbed floor by floor, reviewing the condition of each room and every window; some remained through the night to expedite restoration.

But as many of us learned in the aftermath of Sandy, bringing a building back to life is more complicated than flipping a switch, facilities must undergo a careful process to be habitable again. Running everything too soon after a power shutdown could damage equipment and further delay the opening of our buildings. The same holds true for reintroducing steam.

Before steam can be reintroduced, cold water droplets have to be removed from the lines, since the temperature difference between condensation and steam can lead to a volatile reaction. Add hot steam back into the line too soon and the pipes can explode. And since there is no telling when a steam line might rupture, the process of reintroducing steam requires planning, strategy, and skill. Everyone except essential personnel is evacuated during the process.

We were able to gain full service for 26 Federal Plaza on November 7th, for 201 Varick Street by November 8 and for all other buildings soon thereafter. PBS’ advance planning and facility preparedness helped us to accomplish this without damage to our equipment or harm to any personnel.

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