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  • QB Sneak is Easier in the Dark: Lessons from the 2013 Super Bowl Power Outage

    Super Bowl 50 is coming up Sunday. So it’s a good a time as any to remember the 2013 Super Bowl, when a power outage left half the Superdome dark.

    Before the lights went out, the Super Bowl was humming along. The second-half kickoff had just produced the longest play in Super Bowl history when the Baltimore Ravens’ Jacoby Jones returned the kick 108 yards. Baltimore was leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 and the 49ers had the ball when, suddenly, half the stadium went dark. CBS, which was broadcasting the game, lost power to its main booth and some of its cameras, and had to broadcast from its secondary area.

    "Everything shut down," Carl Trinchero, a 49ers fan from Napa, Calif., who was in the Superdome, told the Associated Press. "No credit cards, vending machines shut down, everything shut down."

    Power goes out in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII  between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Raven on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) Fortunately, the Super Bowl only went half-dark - Image via Mercury News

    Later investigation showed that a recently-installed electrical relay device designed to prevent a power outage actually triggered one. It wasn’t set to handle the amount of power needed at the Superdome, so signaled a surge when there wasn’t one and tripped, just like a circuit breaker in a home. It took 22 minutes to turn the power back on and 34 minutes before the game began again.

    However, because several safeguards were in place, what could have been a tragedy became more of a joke. Facebook even got a new community: “I survived the Super Bowl 47 power outage.”

    First, backup power immediately kicked in. The outage only affected half the building and auxiliary power kept the field from going completely dark.

    "People like me looked at that and were like, 'That's awesome that it only went half-dark,'" Juliette Kayyem, a board member of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), told Vice.com.

    In a power outage at home, light can be your best friend to prevent panic. Make sure you’ve got easily accessible backup lighting.

    Even with backup power, many systems didn’t work. Concourses were lit only by small emergency lights. One elevator got stuck with people inside, and firefighters had to rescue them. Credit card machines shut down.

    Have you thought about what else you might lose during a power outage?

    out-of-service-atm - Super Bowl Image via Real World Survivor

    If you live in a high-rise building, for example, water most likely is pumped to your floor. Lose power, and the pumps won’t work. Also, do you keep emergency cash in small bills? In a power outage, you won’t be able to access an ATM, and your credit card won’t work.

    Communication proved vital to keeping people calm. The public address announcer immediately came on and encouraged fans to stay in their seats. Social media went crazy: AT&T reported that in the Superdome, cell data use was almost doubled from the same time the year before. In fact, the NFL’s security chief said fans were calm because of their preoccupation with their electronic devices.

    Do you have a way to receive communication during a power outage? Do you have a way to charge your phones? Be aware that during a disaster, cell phone service will likely be jammed, so try to use text messaging to communicate.

    Although authorities haven’t found any credible security threats to Super Bowl 50, they are concerned about a recent spate of attacks on fiber optic cables.  Since July 2014, vandals in northern California have cut at least 16 fiber optic lines, which carry Internet, TV, and phone information. Tens of thousands of people have been affected, but so have banks, stores, and anyone else that uses broadband services to communicate information. Hypothetically speaking, it would be bad enough if a person can’t access their (expensive) e-ticket to get into the event; it’d be worse if, say, a hospital can’t access a person’s medical records.

    So this weekend, be prepared. Be safe. Have fun. And go Broncos.

    - Melissa

     

    February - Power Banner - Super Bowl

  • The Power’s Out…Now What? 5 Steps to a Better Blackout

    Your town is landlocked, so there’s no threat of hurricanes. Tornadoes tend to avoid your state, and earthquakes just don’t happen. So what’s to worry about?

    Blackout ManhattanChances are you use electricity in your home. No matter where you live, there is always a threat that your power will go out. In fact, the United States experiences “more blackouts than any other developed nation,” according to International Business Times. They went on to say that the number of power losses along the U.S. grid have escalated 285% since 1984. And, with the demand for power still growing, those numbers will just get higher.

    So hopefully you’re preparing for the inevitable blackout. But once it does come, what then?

     

    1. Light It Up

    Power Outage with Candles BlackoutFirst of all, know where your backup lights are (flashlights, emergency candles, etc.), and keep them in an easy-to-reach place. This way, you’ll be able to find everything else you need quickly – without having to stumble through the dark. When using candles, it is important to exercise caution, as they have the potential to start fires. While a larger fire will provide more light, it will also cost you a lot more in damages. Pros and cons, I guess.

     

    1. Power to the People

    Now that you have light, the next step is to give yourself power. You can’t always have a super-generator on hand to keep your entire home up and running for the duration of the blackout (although that would be nice), but you can prepare with power packs, batteries, and chargers that will keep your electronic devices working despite the lack of electricity. This way, your phone will always have a charge, just in case you need to make an emergency call – or play an emergency game of Angry Birds. That being said, try and keep the games and movies to a minimum so as to not run down your power sources before you need them for actual emergency purposes (not that Angry Birds isn’t an emergency, but…you know what I mean).

    20121026-_MG_2503_ccs blackout Generators like this Goal Zero Yeti are safe to use indoors because they don't run off gas. It can also be hooked up to solar panels!

    A note about generators: Most generators should never be used inside, no matter how safe you think it is. You may be able to find some indoor-safe generators, but unless stated as such (and certified), don’t risk it. Carbon monoxide is deadly and you may not even realize you’re being poisoned by it. The same goes for grills, camp stoves, and other gas-powered cookers and heaters. Basically, if it’s portable, chances are it’s not safe to use indoors (this includes the garage and carports. There is danger even if there is ventilation). There are, however, generators you can have charged well in advance that will last you many hours. Because these run off stored electricity, they are safe to use inside.

     

    1. Stay Safe

    If it’s cold outside, keep to a higher level if possible, as warm air rises. Wrap yourself up in blankets and layer up your clothing to keep in that body heat. Alternately, if it’s really hot outside and your power goes out, make your way to the basement or other cool area. Wear light, loose clothing as well. Regulating your body temperature is vital during a blackout.

    If it is dark, don’t try and venture around your home without a light. Falling down stairs or knocking your head on an open cupboard can make things a lot worse. Likewise, if the power's out, the streets will most likely be dark as well, so it might be best to just avoid going out into the blackness of night.

     

    1. Keep Your Food Safe

    According to Ready.gov, food in your refrigerator should stay cold for about 4 hours, so long as you keep the door shut. A freezer full of frozen food will maintain its temperature for up to 48 hours.

     

    1. Know When to Call it Quits

    Sometimes, the best thing to do is admit defeat. If the blackout is going to last longer than you’re prepared for, you might need to check in to a hotel or stay with a family member nearby. Doing so is not showing weakness – it’s showing wisdom. If you’re having troubles preparing food, staying warm or keeping cool, finding another location to spend the night or next few days would be a wise move indeed.

     

     What are some other important steps to take during a power outage? Let us know in the comments below!

     

    February - Power Banner Blackout

  • Is Our Power Grid At Risk?

    On August 14, 2003, high voltage power lines in Ohio brushed against trees and failed. A software bug kept an alarm from going off, which caused a chain reaction of power station failures that knocked the lights off for 50 million people in the eastern United States and Canada. Transportation shut down as airports, subways, traffic lights and tunnels stopped functioning. Cash registers and ATMs quit. Cell phones became useless when their towers stopped working. In Cleveland, Ohio, water pumps halted and left 1.5 million people without drinking water. The blackout caused $4 to $6 billion in damage and contributed to at least 11 deaths.

    Night Before Blackout - Power grid The night before the blackout (source: NOAA News)
    Night After Blackout - Power grid The night after the blackout (source: NOAA News)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    We in the U.S. don’t usually think about power. So let’s consider it.

     

    Electric Power System and Control Communications - Power grid Electric Power System and Control Communications (source: energy.gov)

    Electricity is unique. Unlike food or water, electricity can’t be stored. In any moment, all the power produced is used. It’s generated by one of 6,000 public and private power plants and sent hundreds or thousands of miles through high voltage wires. The whole system is divided into four regional grids. Most of the time, it’s a consistent, convenient flow. It’s designed so if one part of a grid fails, the electricity flow is transferred to another part. If a smooth transfer doesn’t happen, however, the electricity load can behave like a flash flood, sending a blast of power a station isn’t equipped to handle. When that station’s breakers fail, its electricity gets transferred to yet another station. If enough stations fail, there’s nowhere for the power to go. It slams through station after station, all of which shut down to protect themselves. Blackout.

    Alternatively, if one power plant fails, others might not immediately have enough power to supply everyone’s needs. This is an especial concern in the eastern U.S. during winter. Some plants run on natural gas. But heating needs take precedence. So if there’s not enough natural gas to both heat the population and generate electricity, electricity goes first. Blackout.

    Both utilities and government have taken many steps to improve the way they handle potential failures, including upgrading software, establishing communication plans and practicing emergencies. Two types of situations in particular make them nervous: geomagnetic storms and cyber and physical attacks.

    Solar Eruption - Power grid Solar eruption (source: NASA)

    The sun constantly barrages the earth with charged particles. Normally, the magnetic field around the earth stops most of the particles – and creates the aurora borealis light shows. Especially during times of high sunspot activity, however, the sun can eject a light-speed blast of x-rays and energy, called a solar flare, and particles from its outer layer, called a coronal mass ejection. A NASA writer compared the solar flare to a cannon flash and a coronal mass ejection to the cannonball. When the cannon flash hits the earth, it can disrupt radio communication and navigation. The cannonball is much worse. It can create electrical currents that can overload utilities. A 1989 geomagnetic storm took only 90 seconds to collapse a northeastern Canadian power grid. Millions of people lost power for up to nine hours. The storm also caused minor damage throughout the U.S.

    Longer outages of several days, even in one area, could cause widespread government, financial, and infrastructure destruction, according to a National Research Council workshop.

    “Loss of these systems for a significant period of time in even one region of the country could affect the entire nation and have international impacts,” one presenter said at the workshop.

    But at least scientists are getting better at predicting solar storms, their strength and duration. They can now give utilities 45 minutes’ warning. It’s something.

    Power Grid (The Weather Channel) source: The Weather Channel

    A more insidious threat is human attacks. A March 24 USA Today investigation found that the nation’s power grids face a physical or cyber-attack once every four days. Unless the attackers are, say, from the hacker group Anonymous, they don’t usually give any warning.

    On April 16, 2013, attackers cut six underground fiber-optic cables at a substation in northern California then fired more than 100 shots at its transformers. They caused more than $15 million in damage. They were never caught.

    Utilities and government agencies are trying to prepare for attacks. Every few years, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation runs a cyber attack response exercise. In its first, in 2011, 75 organizations participated. Its third is planned for this November.

    However, even the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team admits it’s impossible to stop all attacks. The best they do is communicate effectively and contain damage.

    After a power grid disaster, government and utilities’ highest priorities will not be you.

    They’ll be getting power plants online and making sure medical facilities and first responders have the watts they need, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    “While these government and industry groups initially focus on critical facilities, homeowners, business owners, and local leaders may have to take an active role in dealing with energy disruptions on their own,” the DOE wrote.

    Here are some ways to prepare, from Ready.gov, the American Red Cross and the DOE.

    • Have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills, and first aid supplies.
    • Keep your cell phone and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method. If you have an electric garage door opener, know how to release it manually.
    • Keep your car’s gas tank full. You can run a vehicle for power, but not in an enclosed space, unless you like carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • If you use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device, tell your local utility so it can prioritize your home. Have a backup plan.
    • Find out where to buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours. A half-full, unopened freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours. Food in a packed, unopened freezer will stay cold for twice that long.

    Several months ago, a nearby transformer blew out. It was evening and rapidly getting dark. My special needs daughter panicked. I had my cell phone and its flashlight, but only about 10 percent of charge remained.

    I had a flashlight, but its batteries were dead. By the rapidly diminishing power from my phone’s light, I found batteries and got it working. My daughter calmed down. But the power didn’t come back on for several hours, and the electric company was working on the transformer well into the next day.

    I learned two lessons. First, keep my phone charged (maybe I haven’t learned that one yet). Second, know where emergency equipment is and make sure it’s in good shape.

     

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