Cold-weather Super Bowl has new element, power

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Associated Press

Posted on February 4, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 4 at 6:01 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — While the NFL and officials in New York and New Jersey say they will do everything they can to prevent another power outage at the Super Bowl, energy experts warn it's almost impossible to guarantee the lights will stay on at any event, let alone the cold-weather championship game at MetLife Stadium in 2014.

University of Pittsburgh energy expert Dr. Gregory Reed said the cost of backing up every system at any stadium would be exorbitant, and the best that stadium operators can do is to examine the power systems before the contest and prepare for every eventuality.

Bill Squires, the former vice president and general manager of Giants Stadium, said the power issue will not only be a hot topic for the NFL and next year's Super Bowl host committee, but also for all stadium operators.

Neither Al Kelly, the president and chief executive of the organizing committee for next year's game, nor Public Service Gas & Electric, the utility that provides power to the stadium, wanted to comment on the 34-minute outage at the Superdome until a cause had been determined.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was sitting with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the game Sunday, and they talked about avoiding a repeat of the blackout at next year's game at the Meadowlands.

"This is clearly something that can be fixed, and it's clearly something that we can prepare for. And we will," Goodell said Monday.

Reed, the director of the university's Electric Power Initiative, associate director of its Center for Energy, and a professor of electric power engineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, said there is no way to guarantee against a blackout.

"You can certainly put in more redundancy, but you can't back up 100 percent the entire load infrastructure of every single wire, every single cable of every transformer in a network because it's impractical from a cost point of view," Reed said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "You can do what you can using good engineering judgment on reducing the risk of an outage but you can't guarantee it 100 percent. Anything can happen. When it does, then you have to be prepared to react to it."

Reed said he thought the Superdome operators did a good job restoring power in 34 minutes. He also said the system did well in isolating the fault and limiting the outage to one side of the stadium.

The outage seemed change the momentum of the game. The Ravens led 28-6 at the time of the outage and San Francisco grabbed control when play resumed, getting within 31-29 before losing 34-31.

"Rarely is a blackout seen in a positive light, but in this case there was a positive sense to it," Reed quipped.

New Orleans officials were still trying to determine what caused the outage. Reed said it could take a while but felt it would be discovered once the equipment is checked and fault recorders in the system are examined.

Squires, a past president of the Stadium Managers Association, said stadium operators have contingency plans for almost everything, including outages.

"This is not the first time a facility has lost power," said Squires who has run facilities or consulted on stadium operations for 26 years. "We've lost it, other facilities have lost it, arenas have lost it. It's something you monitor all the time, you do preventive maintenance all the time and you do tests and whatnot, but sometimes stuff happens."

MetLife Stadium, which became the home of the Giants and Jets in 2010, actually had a game delayed by a power outage in its first season of operation. A contest between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 14 experienced two power outages when New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority equipment feeding power to the stadium malfunctioned, with the second failure throwing the stadium into total darkness for about five or six seconds.

The stadium's emergency generator activated and quickly restored light.

The sports authority receives its power from PSE&G.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the utility had no comment Monday on the outage in New Orleans and its effect on next year's game.

A month before that Giants-Cowboys game in 2010, lightning and heavy rain cleared fans from the stadium 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the Minnesota Vikings-New York Jets Monday night game. The inclement weather delayed the start of the game until 9:15 P.M.

An announcement blared over the public address system telling fans to clear the stands, and the four video boards displayed a message that read: Due to lightning, please head to concourses until further notice.

Players from both teams left the field and went to their locker rooms.

A similar scene played out last year when the Syracuse-Southern California football game in September was delayed for about an hour by a passing thunderstorm.

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