Power Outages Dealing with the Dark

Northeasterners are a tough breed, but even they have to deal with dark days and nights—and they need an action plan in case of a blackout. This was evidenced by the blackout of 2003. In August of that year, a series of power failures overloaded the grid distributing electricity to the entire Northeastern United States, tripping circuit breakers at generating stations all the way to Canada, and triggering the largest blackout in the United States history. New York City logged 80,000 emergency calls during the episode—more than double the average but New Jersey was not spared, either. Most of Hudson, Morris, Essex, Union, Passaic, and Bergen counties were affected, including densely populated urban centers Paterson and Newark. 

Though power was restored to much of the affected area within a day or so, millions of dollars in losses and damages were incurred, and serious questions arose about the state of the power grid serving this part of the country. Toll collection on the Jersey Turnpike was even suspended until power started being restored the day following the blackout. 

Fast-forward to Halloween 2012, and the catastrophic arrival of Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out electricity and water for millions of buildings and homes up and down the coast. More than 23,000 people sought refuge in temporary shelters, and more than 8 ½ million people lost power. Sandy is estimated to have done some $30 billion in damage in New Jersey alone; nearly 350,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and 37 people lost their lives. Over 2 million homes lost power during the storm, and while power to many was restored within a few days, according to state and local utility figures, heading into the second week of November, there were still over a quarter-million New Jerseyans in the dark.

Getting Help 

While events like the Northeast blackout and Hurricane Sandy may not be controllable, having a clear, well-rehearsed emergency management plan for power outages in one’s condo is something every board can and should do. Emergency management pros encourage building and HOA administrators to be proactive in educating their residents about their community's emergency plans, as well as encouraging them to implement individual action plans as well.

Because it's the nature of a blackout to be somewhat unpredictable, it's important for managers and boards to notify their building residents well ahead of time about what they should do. This should include letting people know that there will be a building representative in the lobby who will answer questions. Residents should also be aware of which areas of the building that should be avoided due to emergency operations or hazards during a blackout.

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