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The roof is on FIRE!

We don’t need no water, let the… oh, wait… The actual roof is actually on fire you say?

YES: Ahh! Time to run around like crazy people!

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

This happened over the weekend at one of our clients in NY. The back story is this; over the last two weeks, the area has received almost three feet of snow. This roof is pitched slightly toward the back of the building. The roofing material is some type of PVC, which is very slippery when wet. Thus, at some point the snow/ice pack shifted towards the back of the building, it broke the natural gas pipe off where it entered the unit:

Broken gas pipe, HVAC unit 1

Broken gas pipe, HVAC unit 1

The next time the HVAC unit cycled on, there was giant torch on the roof with flames reportedly eight feet high.  A local fire fighter just happened to be driving down the road and spotted the fire, thus likely saving the building from major damage.  The fire department came and cut off the gas and electric.  The building was evacuated for about 20 minutes while they overhauled and checked for internal fires.

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

A second unit suffered the same fate, only with less damage:

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

The fire in this unit was contained to the controller area.  Same situation with the gas pipe, only it looks like the pipe was not broken all the way off:

HVAC unit broken gas pipe

HVAC unit broken gas pipe

The other two units are shut off while the gas pipes are dug out of the snow pack and checked for damage. At some point, they will be turned back on so that the heat can be restored to the second floor sales bullpen. Meanwhile, the sales people; they are complaining.

We threw a tarp over the unit with the cover ripped off because more snow is on the way:

Carrier HVAC unit tarped

Carrier HVAC unit tarped

Secure everything, assume nothing, take nothing for granted

The big lesson learned from Sandy is take nothing for granted. For several days prior to the storm’s arrival, we checked everything; refueled and started every generator, checked the oil, water and battery electrolyte, set up fuel deliveries ahead of time for the worst case scenario, checked all the backup transmitters and STL’s, and so on.  The one thing that I didn’t consider was a storm surge so high that the propane tank would float away.  After all, those tanks are heavy.

However, a brief examination of elementary physics reveals that even when full, a propane tank will float:

One gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds if it is fresh water or approximately 8.55 pounds for salt water (depending on where it is from).

One gallon of liquid propane weighs approximately 4.1 pounds, thus it is about half as dense as water.

Most propane tanks are not full, being at most 80% liquid volume. It is always the thing that you didn’t think of.

We seem to be suffering a 500 year storm about once a year or so around these parts.  I expect that things will only get worse.  With that in mind, it is perhaps time to re-think our disaster preparedness and recovery plans to incorporate every worst case scenario we can imagine.  Everyone knows, but it bears repeating: Radio is the last link that people have when all other technology fails.  Thus, when it comes to storm preparation, there is no such thing as too much.  Thus:

  • Secure everything
  • Assume nothing
  • Take nothing for granted

Our assumptions about power utility and telephone network reliability and restoration may be wrong.  Our assumptions about access to remote sites, our ability to use vehicles, availability of gasoline and other fuels may be over optimistic.  Our assumptions that basic food stuffs, clean water and secure resting areas may also be wrong.  Get those items wrong and it does not matter how much equipment redundancy is built into facilities.

For remote transmitter sites, access can be a major problem after a storm.  In low lying coastal areas, flooding will be an issue.  In those situations, having backup transmitter sites would be a key feature of any disaster plan.

All good disaster plans also have the human component; clean water, food and safe, secure resting areas for the staff.  As always, when the SHTF and there are no options and no ideas, there is the Bear Grylls survival method:

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Which we really, really don’t want to do (from the TV show Man vs. Wild on Discovery).

A day in Pictures

The aftermath:

Long beach

Long beach, this used to be an isthums, now it is a sand bar

A set of old stairs

A set of old stairs on the beach where the cottages used to be located.

Surf

Surf

100 lb propane tanks

Found the reason why the generator is not running

Propane tanks adrift

Propane tanks adrift from storm surge. There was a strong propane smell around these tanks, I secured all the valves.

WICC propane tank pad

Where the propane tanks should be

debris washed ashore during storm surge

Debris washed ashore during storm surge around north tower, including a section of dock

Second high tide after Hurricane Sandy, noon on Tuesday

Second high tide after Hurricane Sandy, noon on Tuesday, flooding ground system

three phase power line down

Three phase power line down due to wind

Three phase power line down

More wind damaged power lines

Telco wires taken down by trees

Telco wires taken down by trees

Generator room water level, as seen on the side of the battery

Generator room water level, as seen on the side of the battery

More work here tomorrow.

Update: Took longer than anticipated, but the station is back on the air with generator power as of 8:15 am, Thursday (11/1).  Commercial power restoration is not expected until Monday or Tuesday at the earliest.

Update: Commercial power restored on Thursday, 11/8 for a total outage of 10 days.  One good thing about incidents like this, I now have a fresh set of contacts for all the important people connected to servicing this site.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Class Charlie fire in the transmitter room electrical panel.  Away fire party from repair locker forward.  Set condition ZEBRA throughout the ship, this is not a drill.

Or something like that.  If you were driving around Albany, NY this afternoon and noticed WDCD-FM was off the air, this is the reason why.

WDCD AM/FM main distribution panel

WDCD AM/FM 480 volt 3 phase AC main distribution panel

A little after noon time, the 480 volt main distribution panel at WDCD AM/FM caught fire, taking the FM station off the air.

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

According to this clock, it happened at 12:19 pm, when there was a loud bang and the lights in the studio flickered several times, followed by the building fire alarm going off.  Thankfully, a quick response by the station staff and the Town of Colonie fire department limited the damage to the interior of the distribution panel.  Other than the dry chemical fire extinguisher residue all over the place, the building is none the worse for wear.

WDCD distribution panel burned parts

WDCD distribution panel burned parts

The 480 Volt three phase electrical distribution panel was installed in 1947 when the original building was constructed.  The power company cut the power to the building and an electrician was able to re-route the distribution for the dry step down transformers that power the studios and equipment racks.  The original 480 volt service was installed due to the 50 KW AM transmitter for WPTR (WDCD-AM).   Currently, WDCD-AM is silent, pending programming decisions by the owner, Crawford Broadcasting.

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

So, we spent the late afternoon vacuuming the NextGen computers and UPS out, wiping down the equipment and making sure to clean out the power supplies and other nooks and crannies.  Then, we powered everything back up, one at a time and to our pleasant surprise, all came back up without error.  Total off air time for the FM station was about 6 hours.

Local Radio, WDEV style

I found this article in Boston.com an interesting read:

Vermont’s unsung Hurricane Hero

Just as the flood waters were rising and people in Vermont were struggling to escape their homes with merely the clothing on their backs:

…when I checked the CBS Evening News moments later, I watched in astonishment as the head of the National Hurricane Center, with a sweep of his hand toward Vermont, declared that the danger had passed. The storm was over, and overblown. The national media, focused on New York City, missed where Irene hit hardest. Vermont simply didn’t exist.

This is why radio, localy owned, locally run radio is vitally important.  In the midst of disaster, WDEV opened it’s phone lines to the listeners and received information about flooded roads, people needing to be rescued, evacuation centers and a whole host of other things that kept the people informed and the potential death toll low.  All of this while the power was out, the cable system disabled, the internet unavailable and battery powered radios were people’s only information source.

I have driven by the WDEV AM site in Waterbury, VT several times.  It sits back on a hill side off of US Route 2/I-89 with three, what look like Miliken self supporting towers.  It signed on in 1931 and has been owned by the Squier family since 1935.  An FM signal was added in 1989.  Stations like this are one of the reasons I still work in this business.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene wrap up

Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY, Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011

Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY. Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011

I read through the FCC’s Hurricane Irene information on which stations were off the air and when, I believe there are a few more to add to the list.  Starting from South to North:

  1. WNYC (820 KHz) (New York Public Radio) See WMCA below.
  2. WMCA (570 KHz) (Salem Communications) went off when the fetid swamp known as the Meadowlands flooded, which is where their transmitter sites are located.
  3. WFAF (106.3 MHz) Mount Kisco, (Cumulus Broadcasting) Loss of power, no back up power
  4. WLNA (1420 KHz) Peekskill (Pamal Broadcasting) another AM located in a fetid swamp, this time in Peekskill.  It is likely this station will be off for several days.
  5. WOSR (91.7 MHz) Middletown (Northeast Public Radio) reasons unknown.
  6. WKIP (1450 KHz) Poughkeepsie (Clear Channel Broadcasting) transmitter room flooded with about 18 inches of water, water over topped the base insulator and ATU.
  7. WVKR (91.3 MHz) Poughkeepsie (Vassar College) no backup power, back on at 12:00 pm 8/29
  8. WKXP (94.3 MHz) Kingston (Clear Channel Broadcasting) Loss of emergency generator when fan belt broke, restored four hours later.
  9. WAMK (90.9 MHz) Kingston (North East Public Radio) Kingston transmitter site, which looks like it is located in a Revolutionary War relic, is noted for being unreliable.   It goes off frequently and was off and on all day.
  10. WFGB (89.7 MHz) Kingston (Sound of Life Radio) Located in same building as WAMK, is an LP-1 station.
  11. WKNY (1490 KHz) Kingston (Cumulus Broadcasting) antenna field flooded, back on the air by 9 am 8/29.
  12. WYJB (95.5 MHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) Generator voltage regulator failed, equipment secured to prevent damage.  Is an LP-1 station.
  13. WZMR (104.9 MHz) Altamont (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  14. WAJZ (96.3 MHz) Voorheesville) (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  15. WROW (590 KHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) STL passed through WYJB transmitter site
  16. WPTR (96.7 MHz) Clifton Park (Crawford Broadcasting) reasons unknown
  17. WTMM (104.5 MHz) Mechanicville (Townsquare Media) reasons unknown
  18. WEQX (102.7 MHz) Manchester, VT (Northshire Broadcasting) loss of power

Most of these stations are now back on the air, however, several suffered much water damage due to flooding and will be off for a while.  Lots and lots of roadways washed out, trees down, power still out for tens of thousands of people, it’s a mess.

These stations that went off the are are but a small fraction of the radio stations that serve the Hudson Valley and upstate NY. Most of the large class B stations, and regional AM stations, which are also the LP-1 EAS stations, stayed on the air for the duration of the storm, as did all of the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards stations in the area.

Kudos to the DJ’s, meteorologists, news people and field reporters for keeping us informed and safe.

Storm Preparation

With Hurricane Irene taking aim at the northeast, now is the time to make preparations for bad weather.  This is the five day forcast:

Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Now, five day forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. There are too many variables to make it accurate and even the most seasoned meteorologist will admit, it is an educated guess.  However, the large semi-transparent disk is almost always accurate.  Therefore, it seems we may be in for a bit of a storm this weekend, with the eastern end of Long Island and the Newport/Providence RI in the landfall area. The Bridgeport, CT stations will likely see the worst of it, if the storm follows the predicted course.

Having a good disaster recovery program in place reduces much of the pre-storm work.  This includes backup equipment and personnel allocations to keep the stations on the air and providing valuable information during the event.  Wherever and whenever our clients allow us, we make sure that these systems are properly designed, installed and working.  When trouble is milling about off shore in the form of a Hurricane, then we make a few final preparations, both personally and for the clients:

  1. Top off all generator fuel tanks and test them.  This includes my home generator.
  2. Make sure all loose items are secured.
  3. Make sure other redundant systems; backup transmitters, back up STLs, backup transmitter sites are in order and ready to be deployed.
  4. Check the personal safety items; first aid kit, rain gear, flashlight batteries, work gloves, eye protection, hard hat, some type of energy food and extra water are in the truck.
  5. Get out a clean sleeping bag and a set of clean dry clothes and put them in the truck.
  6. Gas up the chain saw and put it in the truck with extra gas, bar oil and blade sharpener.

During the event, it is important to recognize when a situation is too dangerous to proceed and wait for the danger to subside. Examples of this are local flooding of roadways, downed power lines, high winds, and or electrical storm while working at transmitter sites.

Radio may have lost much of it’s relevance as an entertainment medium, however, there is still one thing it does very well; broadcast emergency communications and information to the public.

Update: As of 5 am 8/25 it looks as if the hurricane is making a b-line toward Bridgeport, CT.  Most of the computer models are now in agreement which means the forecast is getting a better handle on the variables and is becoming more accurate.  Strength is still somewhat debatable, but even a category 1 storm could do significant damage.  We shall see.

Update 2: As of 5 pm 8/26, Irene is still on course for the greater NYC/Long Island sound area.  As much as possible, preparations are complete.  There are some things which cannot be helped, like the height above mean sea level of the WICC and WEBE transmitter sites (10 feet) or the lack of a generator at WXPK studios, etc.  Estimates are for Hurricane force winds by this time tomorrow, so the only thing left to do now is get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow may be one of those long days.

Here is an interesting thing; several people have suggested that IBOC signals on both AM and FM NYC stations be turned off so that smaller local stations will be listenable to local residents in NJ and Long Island.  A secondary consideration would be the amount of power IBOC uses and possibility of backup generators running out of fuel to run something that has little or no audience.  If that isn’t telling….

It should be interesting.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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