Posted at: 08/28/2013 9:57 PM
| Updated at: 08/28/2013 11:46 PM
By: Jessica Layton
GUILDERLAND - Several days before Tropical Storm Irene hit, National Grid was tracking the storm from it's Eastern Regional Control Center.
Chances are you don't know where the building is. You're not supposed to. It's a secret spot. We can tell you it's in Guilderland, but NewsChannel 13 agreed not to disclose the address of the building. Since 9/11, utilities and the federal government have decided it's best to keep the exact location of these facilities under the radar.
The day we visited the control center, it was calm and quiet. A "blue sky day" as the utility company calls it. It's a rare time when the radar screen used to track storm cells is clear. These sorts of days help prepare the workers for the times that will test them.
"The most overwhelming (storm) I've seen is probably Hurricane Irene," National Grid representative Ray Joyce said.
Joyce says the week of Aug. 28, 2011 is a time everyone here will always remember. In a large room resembling a 911 dispatcher center, where the staff monitors the weather and any disturbance and potential problem with the electric system, they were tracking something big.
As Irene approached Pennsylvania, Joyce and his team assembled an army of trucks and line crews. The electric teams converged on the area, waiting for what would turn out to be one of their biggest challenges ever.
"Widespread outages, mixed with flooding," Joyce recalled.
More than 150,000 National Grid customers lost power when Irene slammed into the Capital Region.
Workers like Bill Flaherty were in communities day in and day out for weeks on end.
"If you go back to Rotterdam Junction," Flaherty said, "you saw people dealing with mud in basements. The flooding definitely poses the biggest challenge."
That's because the crews can't get always get to the equipment with water in the way. The Mohawk River swept away several national grid transmission towers during the storm and badly damaged substations.
"We had a substation in Amsterdam along the Mohawk River. The substation flooded. Now we're building a new substation in the town of Florida on higher ground," Vice President of Electrical Operations Keith McAfee said.
McAfee says that new substation -- along with new natural gas pipeline beneath the Mohawk River -- are all part of a $1.6 billion investment the company has made in upstate New York over the past five years.
National Grid says it's all an investment to not only improve the power lines, but to make better the lines of communication with customers.
After Irene, National Grid started doing more door to door visits, helping people with things other than getting the lights and the gas back on.
"Provide dry ice, provide water, supplies, mops, flashlights, the kinds of things that will get people through the day," said Flaherty.
Back at the control center on this blue sky day, each day is about preparing for the next power problem -- being ready whether it's a storm, a fire or a squirrel that causes the outage.
"Every season brings a different challenge," Joyce said.
But they say every challenge is a chance to do better for the customer.