February 4, 2013

Failing infrastructure in America? At the Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl is like a second Christmas for most Americans and perhaps the greatest holiday of them all. Everybody comes over, eats a lot of food and watches football. It's like Thanksgiving but without those pesky family members.

(Buy DVDs of all the Super Bowls, here)

On America's greatest day, however, the power went out. In the third quarter things went dark in the Super Dome and it took over a half hour to resume the game. Slightly embarrassing for the city of New Orleans which has had plenty of heartbreak in the past with Hurricane Katrina (even in this very stadium). They redid the Super Dome after the Hurricane but apparently the root cause of the power outage was that the infrastructure of the stadium couldn't handle the demand.

"Shortly after the beginning of the second half of the Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system. Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed."

It's a rather vague explanation, but the very issue is infrastructure. Neither the power company nor the stadium operators could see the problem and avoid it. America's power grid is rather, shall we say, weak, and this just highlights it. You always here in those IBM commercials about all the smart grids and this is what they're talking about. A similar incident happened during at Sun Life Stadium at the Orange Bowl, but since it was a smart system, the operators were able to bypass the issue and avoid all the lights going out in the stadium.

The sad part is, the Super Dome got a new electrical system after the Hurricane, meaning that this should have been prevented. There should had been no problem with the lights. However, minutes of the stadium's governing board show that twice the issue of redoing some of the electrical work in the stadium to make it the power system 100 percent redundant. They still weren't enough.

The implication is obvious: the state agency that oversees the Superdome knew over the summer that the stadium's infrastructure—just seven years old—wasn't sufficient to host a Super Bowl. Whatever additional work was done wasn't enough to keep the lights from going out. (LSED's "preliminary review" finds that the upgrades weren't the cause of the blackout.)

So let me just pull thoughts together in a tight bow. Our aging infrastructure in this country gave us a stadium that needed a new electrical system, and the governing board knew the system couldn't handle the new load but still couldn't get it up to par of the big game. Lets say this is a bridge, the state would have known the bridge couldn't have handled the load, put a few wooden planks on it and it still collapsed.

I know this was a new system but it still failed. Infrastructure failure. Get use to it because its going to happen a lot in the near future in this country. The 49ers had a game delayed last year when a transformer blew on national television and plunged the stadium into darkness. If we can't simply keep the lights on during the biggest football game money-maker of the year, what about our roadways? Our sewage systems? Our drinking water?

1 comment: