Power Disruptions at Stadiums and Venues Are a Common Problem—Here’s Why
Nicole Hayes posted on July 10, 2018 |
An electrical blackout.
An electrical blackout.

Quality lighting, sound and connectivity are essential to all entertainment venues. For large-scale events like the Super Bowl, a blackout for even a moment can result in long-lasting damage and millions of lost dollars.

However, these blackouts and outages are increasingly common.

You might recall Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, which famously suffered from a 34-minute power disruption to the New Orleans Superdome. The power “abnormality” was widely discussed at the time, prompting emergency meetings with the New Orleans utility committee and an investigation by the FBI.But for many, this was only the first in a string of memorable blackouts at widely attended events.

Another well-known example would be the Chicago-based music festival Lollapalooza, which suffered from repeated lighting and stage disruptions in 2016 after an issue with their power generators. In front of approximately 400,000 concertgoers, Lollapalooza was forced to turn down the volume for their remaining sets, causing many disappointed attendees to depart early.

Even more recently, the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) delivered one surprise that attendees could not have prepared for: a massive power outage in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Rain condensation led to a failure of the venue’s electrical infrastructure, driving the show to a halt and interfering with presentations from hundreds of technology companies, including Google and Samsung.

By most accounts, these three instances were entirely preventable. No citywide blackouts or random lightning strikes took down the grid. However, just a few weeks after CES, Super Bowl LII fell victim to a similarly unexpected disruption, followed closely by the NHL’s Stadium Series game in Annapolis, Md. The frequency is alarming.

What Type of Damage Results from These Equipment Failures?

Oftentimes, the most significant damage that can arise from a blackout is not when the equipment initially fails, but when the power is turned back on. Once electricity returns to the grid, the inrush of current can be dangerous, especially for the highly sensitive equipment downstream in concerts halls or stadiums. This equipment is designed for a precise voltage, and any dramatic increase resulting from a power surge is likely to permanently damage the electrical equipment or create serious safety hazards.

Beyond the immediate damage to equipment, venues must also remain cognizant of the indirect damage to their clients and guests. For instance, many exhibitors at CES spent over $150,000 to rent a space on the show floor, now rendered useless by the widespread power outage. Further, general attendees who had their experience cut short and diminished by the disruption are less likely to return to the show the following year.

How Can Venues Avoid These Disruptions Altogether?

Picture from the partial power outage at Super Bowl XLVII, which delayed the game by 34 minutes. (Image courtesy of the NFL.)
Picture from the partial power outage at Super Bowl XLVII, which delayed the game by 34 minutes. (Image courtesy of the NFL.)

The most effective preventative measure is to regularly inspect, test and troubleshoot your equipment. Following the blackout at Super Bowl XLVII, a representative for Entergy New Orleans stated that “all the feeds into the Superdome were operating as expected and that the blackout was most probably the result of improperly maintained equipment at the venue.”

In this instance, a faulty electrical relay was to blame, installed specifically to protect the Superdome equipment if a cable failure occurred between the switchgear and the stadium.If the venue’s systems had been properly maintained, the midgame blackout might have been avoided.

Likewise, many of the largest events held across the globe are set up with temporary structures, as is the case with Lollapalooza. The use of inadequate wiring, faulty equipment or a failure to take the proper precautions to protect the temporary wiring and equipment being installed are just a few of the electrical hazards that might be found at these festivals. Further, events like Lollapalooza are often held in open fields with hardly any electrical inspections, so proper planning and execution may be overlooked as well.

Finally, events that are held in regions with extreme temperatures or volatile weather, such as CES in Las Vegas, require safe and durable power connections that will hold up to the elements. Using electrical devices that are rated for outdoor use is imperative if the equipment will be exposed to weather—or if the venue expects heavy rainfall and flash floods. Las Vegas received an unprecedented storm during the week of CES, catching organizers off guard and ultimately contributing to a flash over on one of the facility’s transformers.

Blackout events are often unavoidable; they can occur as a force of nature. However, venues that take preventative measures—such as implementing an effective surge protection network—can increase the likelihood of protecting their equipment and personnel in the event of a surge. After all, safety first.

Nicole Hayes is the marketing manager, commercial and industrial, for Leviton.


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