National Grid Executive Recounts Superstorm Sandy Recovery Process

By Michael Reed, Contributing Editor | June 2014, Vol. 69, No. 6

It is often said along the East Coast that no two storms are alike, and so it was with Superstorm Sandy, which unleashed the full brunt of its fearsome wrath on the New York City area on Oct. 29, 2012.

In its wake, the winds that peaked at 140 mph and accompanying flooding accounted 148 deaths and caused $68 billion in damages. Sandy ultimately caused utility outages in 17 states, en route to becoming, at 1,100 miles in diameter, the largest Atlantic storm in history.

Obviously, even with countless hours of emergency training and preparation, these extraordinary circumstances would push any service provider to the brink. Yet despite the chaos and, at times, unanticipated obstacles, the resolve of gas and electricity provider National Grid’s workers shined brightly.

“Dealing with emergencies is what we do,” said Bill Akley, the company’s senior vice president of Gas Operations. “When the chips are down and the character of your employee base comes through like that, you beam with pride.”

That National Grid employees taking part in the emergency response worked 12-hour shifts, six- and seven- day weeks until almost Christmas was not lost on Akley either. However, he said, such dedication is “pretty indicative of our industry” when it comes to getting service restored as quickly as possible.

Protocol

As with other distribution companies, Natural Grid’s emergency response started with formal protocols. When forecasts showed Superstorm Sandy to be an approaching major storm, these were quickly implemented. For starters, much of the routine work of the company was suspended to free up resources and patrols were dispatched to evaluate flooding levels.

Through the use of isolation zones, a key safety measure, National Grid shut down sections of its gas distribution systems in flood-prone areas so storm damage to infrastructure would not be amplified by leaking gas. In all, the company isolated 20 separate low-lying areas across New York City and Staten Island before the storm hit.

From a public safety standpoint, this proved to be a godsend as infrastructure was quickly torn apart by falling buildings and pulled from the ground by uprooted trees. During the first five hours of the storm, National Grid received about 1,000 emergency calls ranging from service outages to cracked mains and isolated fires.

“Most folks don’t realize the severity of the impact of flooding to infrastructure, but that’s the kind of damage it did to even underground pipelines,” Akley said.