TRENTON, N.J. – Superstorm Sandy left many thousands of homes, municipal services and emergency service facilities across New Jersey without power.
But Seaside Heights, a Jersey Shore barrier island borough, escaped the massive power outages that most other areas faced because of its three peak-demand generators which had been protected from high water when they were installed.
“Initially, we powered them on to supply electricity for the firehouse, emergency management, the police headquarters and the municipal building,” Seaside Heights Borough Superintendent William Rumbolo said.
Because Sandy’s impact on the borough would be unpredictable, officials began preparations for the storm by having emergency workers and officials go door-to-door encouraging residents to evacuate. As Sandy got closer, officials moved the borough’s fire trucks inland to Toms River to escape anticipated flooding and brought in three army trucks the Office of Emergency Management Coordinator obtained for emergency transportation.
When Sandy came ashore, the storm brought winds that knocked down telephone poles, knocking out power and trapping emergency responders and residents who failed to heed the evacuation warnings.
Emergency responders (approximately 45 firemen and 30 policemen) were able to use the generators to keep electricity going and complete rescue missions.
For three weeks, Seaside Heights used the generators to power the community. “We fired up the generators and made some connections so that we could run the whole town,” Rumbolo said. Borough officials originally proposed the idea of obtaining generators to help reduce the cost of wholesale power during peak demand times.
The three two-megawatt diesel generators and their installation cost the borough nearly $4 million. The generators were initially intended to be used during heavy power use hours, to reduce community power consumption and give the borough a better rate when purchasing electricity.
The borough made the decision to power the generators with diesel fuel in the initial installation, which worked out well during the storm since natural gas – the other option – was unavailable to the island after the storm.
“We were able to truck in diesel fuel and run the generators,” said borough officials. “If these things had been powered by natural gas, we would not have been able to use them.”
Sandy brought flooding to the area but the generators had been installed approximately 43 inches above the ground and one foot above the Base Flood Elevation.
Although Seaside Heights officials did not buy and install the generators primarily to be a backup power source, having them was crucial to keep the town running in the aftermath of the storm.
Officials powered up two hotels in the borough so that the responders and those rescued could have a place to stay. They were also able to power the water main to supply running water throughout the borough.
Having the generators protected from storm surge and fully operational gave the borough the ability to safely house the emergency responders as close to the damaged area as possible enabling them to continue uninterrupted response operations.
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