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Long Island Power Authority's Sandy Response

March 1, 2013
Hurricane Sandy may not go down in U.S. annals as the worst storm of all time, but certain East Coast residents may beg to differ. When Sandy made landfall

Hurricane Sandy may not go down in U.S. annals as the worst storm of all time, but certain East Coast residents may beg to differ. When Sandy made landfall in late October 2012, she knocked out power to 1.1 million Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) customers. To add insult to injury, an impressive nor'easter struck the same decimated area just a week into the rebuild, cutting utilities to another 160,000 customers — thousands of whom had recently seen power restored. Despite these significant obstacles, LIPA rose to the challenge.

Measuring 118 miles (190 km) in length and 23 miles (37 km) in width, Long Island is exposed to strong winds and tides, and is thus entirely vulnerable during extreme weather. Located west of highly populated New York City, Long Island is the most highly populated island in the United States.

Nick Lizanich, vice president of operations at LIPA, provided this on-the-ground perspective of the rising tide and falling utility fortunes:

“Although realizing the consequences of storm damage caused by an extended period of hurricane-force winds, some of our greatest challenges were related to flooding,” said Lizanich. “We used NOAA surge maps to prepare our response to the expected tidal surges. The slow movement of the storm was such that NOAA predicted that successive tides would push up against earlier tides to result in greater flooding, all during an astronomical high-tide period due to the full moon. The predictions were in line with what we could handle,” he noted.

“The first high tide was in line with predicted levels and was right near the height of the break walls,” Lizanich recalled. “The second high tide was a couple feet higher than the first and, again, in line with NOAA predictions. The second high tide brought the floodwaters to the substation fence line, so we were feeling pretty confident the third high tide, which was expected to be several feet higher, would be contained by the sandbagging done at the stations. In reality, the third high tide came in as much as 7 ft (2.1 m) higher than expected. As the station breakers began to blow from the floodwaters, and we took steps to de-energize the remaining pieces of the stations to minimize damage, we knew then that we were dealing with the most damaging storm ever to hit Long Island.”

Seven LIPA substations experienced flood damage. Fortunately, LIPA had two mobile substations on hand along with access to another mobile substation, obtained from National Grid, to use in the quick restoration of the system backbone and key critical loads in the flood-ravaged areas. LIPA also had various spare transformers, breakers and switchgear to aid in the restoration of substation circuits, to meet the load so flooded areas could be rebuilt to receive load.

When appropriate, hardening efforts were performed on the substations during the rebuild and restoration process. At one substation, for instance, foundations were raised 5 ft (1.5 m) on a replacement piece of switchgear to position new replacement gear out of future flood danger. In some instances, transmission lines were rerouted to bypass flooded substations.

Mutual aid included 40 outside substation-support personnel to facilitate the removal and replacement of flooded switchgear, breakers and transformers. LIPA also employed services companies to assist in the refurbishment of damaged and flooded equipment, which would be reinstalled and re-energized as conditions and need warranted. It is expected LIPA will ultimately spend $50 million in substation restoration, of which some of this work is still being performed.

In a densely populated area called the “Rockaways,” home to approximately 50,000 customers, a large number of high-rise residential facilities were without power in addition to residential homes and commercial businesses when floodwaters shorted out the supply stations. Anticipating difficulties in customers getting their internal switchgear rooms in the high rises cleaned and ready for service, LIPA assembled a fleet of 105 large stand-alone generators, rated from 70 kW to 2,000 kW, to facilitate the restoration of customer load.

These generators were hooked up to bring back several residential, commercial, governmental and utility facilities. For example, 10 buildings in the Ocean Bay high-rise complex were energized using 10 of these backup generators. Generators also were located at the Long Beach Medical Center and the Mass Transit Authority's Rockaway Park Station. LIPA also located on-site generation at crew staging areas, substations and lay-down yards to facilitate a 24-hour operation of services in hard-hit damaged areas. LIPA also acquired 5,500-W generators for 44 polling stations throughout the service territory, so all voting centers had power for the national election.

One of the more frustrating issues LIPA faced was gaining the required approval to restore power to homes and businesses that had experienced flooding and damage to electrical outlets and wiring panels. Determining who had the authority to authorize the re-energization of these homes and businesses, and how each county would go about making this decision, became a local issue, clearly something that needs to be memorialized prior to the next event.

LIPA is somewhat unique as a municipal utility made up of just about 100 staff personnel. LIPA contracts with National Grid to perform most transmission and distribution services. So, under normal operating conditions, most of the boots on the ground are actually National Grid employees. During this storm, the National Grid team managed most of the tactical issues related to storm restoration.

One of the lessons learned a year ago from Hurricane Irene was the need to improve the cooperation between LIPA and the municipal road-clearing crews in each town. As a lesson learned, a new process was put in place and used during Sandy that received very positive remarks from the local towns and counties. The process includes the assignment of electrical crews to the various town road-clearing crews so they can work together to safely de-energize lines. During Sandy, lines had fallen and became entangled with a tree blocking a major roadway. The early debris-removal initiative proved to be quite valuable as it provided residents access to services and line crews access to roadways for subsequent restoration efforts.

Wind damage also was severe and widespread on the island. Many trees had been uprooted and, subsequently, knocked down distribution lines and poles (more than 4,000 poles were damaged by Sandy). To rebuild the transmission and distribution system, 5,737 line personnel were brought on the island to supplement the 535 crew members residing on the island. Similarly, 3,624 tree workers were contracted to assist the 150 local vegetation workers.

Of course, all these workers and associated support staff had to be housed, equipped and dispatched. Jim Dayton, director of strategic T&D initiatives with National Grid, was responsible for foreign crew management. Dayton shared major process and facilities changes in place for Sandy that had been implemented in the past year because of lessons learned from Hurricane Irene, in 2011:

“To accommodate additional crews, the foreign crew management office moved to a larger facility. The crew-handling process was enhanced to improve process flow. In addition, we relocated the truck arrival and staging site to a larger facility to improve traffic flow, reduce delays and minimize the need to relocate trucks. We could also send out automated texts and calls to crew guides, which resulted in enhanced communications with field personnel. This series of enhancements proved invaluable in handling the unprecedented number of crews we brought onto the island.”

John Bruckner, president of Long Island electric T&D services with National Grid, served as incident commander during the restoration. Because of the extensive level of damage, local crew dispatch was divided between the local dispatch centers and 80 satellite offices created at neighborhood substations. Each day, Bruckner took progress reports from the field at the Hicksville Command Center. Issues addressed included mandatory safety training for incoming crews, crew dispatch, and material, logistics and equipment status updates.

Also critical was the conveyance of operational information to the communications teams, which would provide the messaging to customers. Comprehensive storm-response information was tallied and then placed on the LIPA website to take pressure off the call centers.

LIPA already had begun circuit hardening in 2007, and these efforts paid tremendous dividends. Of the 250 identified road and rail crossings, 100 already had been hardened with larger poles and more robust hardware. Also, more than one-third of the poles with automated sectionalizing units had been hardened. This effort produced great results as none of these structures came down during the storm. LIPA also had changed transmission line design codes so new or reworked transmission lines were being built to withstand 130-mph (209-kmph) winds, up from the original 90-mph (145-kmph) wind design.

LIPA's hurricane preparedness planning included stocking the warehouse to hurricane levels every summer — in anticipation of a major event such as Sandy in 2012 and Irene the year before. Daily deliveries of key hardware and equipment kept all the line crews fully engaged in the restoration efforts. Services also were provided by nonelectrical personnel from National Grid who assisted in material delivery to job sites.

One issue that arose during the event was the unavailability of completely self-protected transformers, which include an internal resettable breaker instead of a fused cutout installed in the riser wire to the transformer. Because the supply chain for these transformers was stretched thin, some crews were tasked with modifying transformer installations to accommodate the need for a fused cutout.

Early on, LIPA had committed to returning power to the majority of customers within 10 days. Just as LIPA was getting to that goal, a setback occurred when the utility was hit with a major nor'easter, along with blinding snow and 30-mph to 35-mph (48-kmph to 56-kmph) winds. The snowstorm knocked out power to an additional 160,000 customers, some of which had just been restored. This was yet another setback for service restoration.

The utility persevered and restored all but those in severely flooded areas within a 14-day period. The flooded areas are slowly being restored as customers get their panels and electrical equipment replaced. As of this writing, a few thousand customers remain without power and whose homes and businesses still await the assistance of the Federal Emergency Maintenance Agency to restore their homes and businesses to normal.

“I'm proud of the work we did to restore the customers who experienced outages associated with Sandy and the subsequent nor'easter,” stated Lizanich. “We do recognize that there is room for improvement, including our ability to keep customers apprised of the status of their restoration effort, and we are undertaking lessons learned to find holes in our processes, both operationally as well as from a communications perspective. When it comes to storm preparation and response, it is a continuous learning process.”

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