"Seconds after a power failure shut down last year’s Super Bowl game in New Orleans, Bill Labos’s phone in New Jersey began vibrating with calls.
“My BlackBerry almost fell out of my pocket,” said Labos, who works for the electric utility charged with preventing a repeat of the blackout at this year’s National Football League championship between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos outside New York City.
“We can’t let that happen here,” Labos was told by his boss, Ralph LaRossa, president of Newark, New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group (PEG)’s utility.
In the 12 months since, Labos has worked with stadium engineers, consultants and New Jersey sports officials to be sure it doesn’t.
Power failures have plagued at least four high-profile sports games including the Super Bowl since 2010, dimming the glow of good feelings such events are supposed to generate for their host cities. More than 108 million people watched the blackout debacle at the New Orleans Superdome.
“We were, in a way, robbed of a celebration of a successful Super Bowl,” Doug Thornton, Superdome general manager, said in an interview this month.
Because the 2013 blackout was blamed on a failed switch, electrical equipment inside and outside the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has been inspected, upgraded, backed-up and tested repeatedly to make sure all systems — from high-voltage cables to circuit breakers — are as fail-proof as possible.
“There are redundancies to our redundancies,” Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, based in New York, said in a telephone interview.
In September, Labos supervised a 12-hour full-power test at MetLife Stadium simulating the Super Bowl.
“Nothing tripped. We’re confident we are going to withstand the load,” he said.
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There are still worst-case scenarios, led by bad weather. The 48th Super Bowl, to be played on Feb. 2, will be the first to be held outdoors in a cold-weather state. Overhead lines into the sports complex could be damaged by ice and high winds, Labos said. The NFL has said it’s prepared to move the game date by a day or two to avoid a severe storm.
Electricity flows into the New Jersey sports complex’s high-voltage network on lines with multiple backups, Labos said. To the stadium itself, however, there are just two feeder lines, and half the lights would go out should either one of those fail, he said. In such a case, switching over all the power to the surviving line would take no more than five seconds — still enough to delay the game."