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Fans and members of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers wait for power to return in the Superdome during an outage in the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (Charlie Riedel/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Fans and members of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers wait for power to return in the Superdome during an outage in the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (Charlie Riedel/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fear of blackout prompts NFL to draft Super Bowl backup plans Add to ...

Al Kelly, the head of the host committee for this season’s Super Bowl, was with Woody Johnson, the Jets’ owner, when the lights went out at the Super Bowl in New Orleans in February. As they struggled in Johnson’s dimly lit suite to comprehend what had happened, Kelly had an additional thought.

“Now there’s something else people will want to talk about besides the weather,” said Kelly, referring to the possibility of snow and a freezing temperature at the Super Bowl in New Jersey on Feb. 2.

Another power failure, though, would be no joke. Last year’s 34-minute failure stopped the game early in the third quarter, confused players and fans at the Superdome and left hundreds of millions of television viewers fumbling for the remote. CBS, which broadcast the game, had one of its worst days. Some of its cameras went dark, and the announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were all but speechless. Saturday Night Live later parodied the network’s jumbled performance.

As a result, avoiding another embarrassing and potentially dangerous power failure has been a priority as the NFL and the host committee race to prepare for the game. Armies of network engineers, consultants and security experts have been checking and double checking substations, transformers, switches, circuit breakers and other gear at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, of which MetLife Stadium is a part.

Crews have trimmed tree branches and bolstered telephone poles to secure overhead lines. Tests have been done to simulate peak demand on game day, when the stadium and adjacent racetrack and arena will be used. Consultants from around the country are providing analysis to the league, the host committee, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and PSE&G, the local utility that provides power to the 750-acre sports complex.

“I joke that we could probably make some extra money by selling sponsorships to our power meetings,” Kelly said.

Keeping the power flowing is just one item in a long list of challenges facing the organizers of the Super Bowl, the first to be held outdoors in a northern city. The weather is beyond their control, but they must figure out how to efficiently shuttle tens of thousands of fans between New York and New Jersey, many of them by bus and train, to avoid gridlock.

In the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April, security will be tighter than usual. In addition to a 10-mile no-fly zone around the stadium, two sets of fences will be built around parts of the stadium.

But far more fans watch the game on television around the world, and that requires an uninterrupted flow of electricity. Up to 18 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 12,000 homes – will be available on game day, with two-thirds provided by PSE&G and the rest produced by diesel generators that will be brought in to power specific things, like the halftime show, and to ensure there is sufficient backup.

Engineers simulated game-day conditions at a WrestleMania event in April and held a separate test in September that produced some minor glitches, according to Wayne Hasenbalg, the chief executive of the authority, which spent almost $2-million (U.S.) improving equipment. The engineers also used Jets and Giants home games, which typically require only 10 megawatts, to iron out any kinks.

“We’ve been working on these solutions to the problem since 35 minutes after the lights went out in New Orleans,” said Frank Supovitz, the senior vice-president for special events at the NFL. “Through all that recognition, I’m very confident that if anything except something incredibly extraordinary happens, we will be able to respond to it.”

The NFL and others involved also studied a power failure in 2010 at a game between the Giants and the Cowboys in the Meadowlands. Similar to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, power was interrupted on one of the two feeder cables to the stadium, and then the second one designed to take over also failed.

There were actually two power failures at the Giants-Cowboys game. The first lasted three minutes and knocked out several lighting banks at the top of the stadium. Eight minutes later, all the lights went out. It took about 20 minutes before all the lighting returned to normal.

Ralph LaRossa, the president of PSE&G, who grew up nearby in Rutherford, N.J. and used to sell hot dogs and sodas at the old Giants Stadium, was at the game that night and recognized that, as in New Orleans a little more than two years later, the high-wattage bulbs that light the field had to cool down before they could be turned back on.

Supovitz said that any delay at MetLife Stadium would be shorter than at the Superdome because some key switches are automated. He added that power was restored in 24 minutes in New Orleans, but the league took an extra 10 minutes to ensure that all its game equipment, like instant-replay systems, was functioning properly before the game was restarted.

Most of those systems will run on independent generators this time, he said. If the stadium lights go out, they would still have to cool before being turned back on. Because they are outdoors, they should cool faster.

“Is there a possibility of a power interruption causing us to lose some time? Sure there is,” Supovitz said. But, he added, “in this case, it might only be a few minutes.”

LaRossa said that PSE&G has improved some of the transmission lines and circuits that serve the sports complex. The overhead lines that feed the complex, however, could be vulnerable in a storm. (Some of them were felled by Hurricane Sandy.)

“God forbid we’re hit with something of that magnitude, all bets are off,” he said. “An ice storm is probably the worst case.”

Still, LaRossa said that even if two lines to the stadium were knocked out, power could still be supplied. The diesel generators and a mobile transformer would provide additional backup.

“Trying to identify contingencies, the more you get into them, the more it never ends,” Hasenbalg said. But, he added, “I’m very confident that we’ve done everything we could to make sure we can deliver the electric service that is needed.”

The real threat, though, may come far from the stadium in the form of a cyberattack or a hiccup in the power supply that ripples through the network.

“It could last for half a second, and that could be enough to trip the lighting system,” said Mark McGranaghan, the vice-president of power delivery and utilization research at the Electric Power Research Institute. “There are emergency lights, but you just wouldn’t be able to play football.”

 

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