Power outage stopped all operations at busy airport. Here's how teams of electrical firms supplied auxiliary power to critical facilities.

A little before 9:00 am on Monday, Jan. 9, a pile driver slammed through 4 ft of underground reinforced concrete into primary power feeders, cutting central power to Newark Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country. At the three main terminals, lighting, sewage treatment systems, pumps, baggage conveyers, certain security systems, reservation computers, terminal information monitors, and HVAC systems all lost power. While some standby power for lighting and critical systems was available, the airport essentially was down.

The control tower remained operational because it has its own auxiliary generator power. Navigational aid systems and aviation marker lighting were on a separate utility power source. Also, some utility power was available to certain parts of the airport. Nevertheless, the movement of hundreds of flights and thousands of people through the airport was slowed significantly and made extremely difficult.

As darkness set in about 5:00 pm, the airport was declared officially closed to passenger traffic for public safety reasons. Many passengers decided to be bussed to other area airports, sit it out, or just go home and try the next day.

Accurate details concerning the accident are not yet available. What is known so far is that a huge pile driver was preparing support for a planned rental car parking ramp. Although it appears that markers were in place, and preparations done, somehow the driver hit and severed the main 26kV primary lines feeding the airport complex, which includes three main terminals, a large hotel, restaurants, and similar retail and service facilities.

Mobile generators supply power

Electrical maintenance people at the Airport, under the direction of John Hallenbeck, immediately sprang into action. Having already planned for the need for auxiliary power, they were able to quickly put into motion local electrical engineering and service firms, electrical contractors, generator specialists, and other needed service companies.

All airport maintenance electricians were called to check existing facilities and to start hooking up auxiliary power. In addition, calls were sent out to other Port Authorities (PA) of N.Y. and N.J. (The PA operates Newark and many other major transportation facilities in the area.)

Immediately, electrical people from LaGuardia Airport and Port Newark as well as electricians from the PA central maintenance group were dispatched to the Airport. Most PA electricians worked continuously, well into the night, and some for a few days more, to be certain that reliable power had been established.

At one point in time, nearly 9000kW of auxiliary power was in operation. This included small units from about 50kW to large 1750kW units mounted in tractor-trailer vans.

Service firm/maintenance crew teamwork

At one terminal building operated by Continental airlines, an engineering and service company, Longo Industries of Morris Plains, N.J., was called by the airline. John Ziomek, Longo electrical engineer, brought in a crew that worked through the day and into the night hooking up mobile generator power.

Another firm, EES/SPB Inc. of Rahway, N.J., a design-and-build auxiliary power company, brought in nearly 6MW of mobile generator power. Its' crews worked through the day and evening, not only connecting its own auxiliary equipment but also aiding others in supplying cables, materials, and making connections.

Also involved were electrical people from Continental Airlines and the PA. Key people from each of the four groups coordinated all activity with skill and dedication, with the only objective being to get the airport up and running quickly.

At the Continental Airlines terminal building, one 1750kW, one 1000kW, and two 600kW generators were connected respectively to three 4000A, 480/277V, 3-phase, 4-wire substations to provide auxiliary power. This was in addition to two permanently installed 1000kW on-site generators within the terminal. The mobile generators were positioned near each of three 4000A services.

Longo technicians then selected appropriate routing and pulled temporary power cables from the mobile generators to each of the three substations. While cables were being pulled, Continental electricians were shutting off all non-essential circuits so that when power renamed, a power surge would be avoided. Of particular importance was "not forgetting" to shut off appropriate mechanically held contactors because they automatically would be latched into the ON position even during a power outage.

Other areas in need

At the other terminals, most work was done by PA electrical crews helped by independent firms. Various sized mobile generators supplying auxiliary power were provided, depending on the facilities at the particular terminal.

Steve McPartland, field engineer for ESS (Emergency Essential Services) points out that, in addition to extensive work at the Continental terminal, requests came from a Marriott Hotel at the airport that needed power to house airline passengers. Thus, a 1000kW unit was hooked up to supply 480/277V to the hotel.

Requests for power for other loads came fast and furious. A sewage pumping station needed a 400kW unit to resume operation. Pumps for transporting fuel to gate-located underground tanks also required power. This was handled by East-West Electric, using generators supplied by Aggreco, a generator rental company. The control tower already had its own standby generator, but the PA wanted a mobile backup generator to assure maximum reliability. Thus, a 750kW unit was hooked up here.

Connection techniques

All mobile generating units were van enclosed and completely self sufficient, with generator controls, fuel supply, a main circuit breaker (CB) and 400A output CBs, protective relays, and output cables with high-amperage, quick disconnect cable connectors. These connectors were of the pin-and-sleeve type, with insulating boots over the connection point.

At some locations, a quick disconnect receptacle was permanently installed on the load side of the main circuit breaker or main fused disconnect. These were provided through the panel door for fast connection of future emergency power cables in event they were ever needed.

To carry 480V temporary power from the generators to main CBs at each substation or service, electricians installed 200-ft lengths of No. 4/0 AWG welding cable, which is rated to carry 500A. This cable provides needed flexibility and the 4/0 size is standardized to simplify installation. For example, where up to 500A was needed, one cable per phase was used; up to 1000A, two cables per phase were used, etc.

When making connections, electricians observed all safety rules. For example, CBs were opened and locked out; series fuses were removed and the panel double-checked for presence of any voltage. A line-side (utility) voltage indicator was also connected. This is simply a pilotlamp connected to the line side in the main panel. Or, one of the signal lamps on the panel itself was used if it related to the CB ON/OFF status. If voltage returned or somehow became present in the panel, the pilotlamp signal would light. Also, an audible alarm was connected for double protection. Then, the temporary cables were connected to the CB load terminals.

The Longo crew kept themselves informed as to progress by the local utility. When word came that the main lines had been reconnected to provide temporary utility power, Longo personnel checked the utility power sources to make certain that proper phase sequence had been established. This was essential to assure the proper direction of motor rotation. Voltage levels were checked and those branch circuits designated to be OFF to avoid a surge were doubled checked. When all circuits had been checked and cleared, auxiliary power was removed and utility power re-connected.