National Grid has unsung heroes in the coronavirus saga

Control center workers are staying on site and around the clock to keep electricity flowing

Mike Baggerman
April 02, 2020 - 7:46 pm

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – To ensure that electricity is up and running as normal during the coronavirus pandemic, regional workers in the control tower for National Grid will be working around the clock and even staying at their control center.

The workers have been staying at the control center in an undisclosed location since March 23.

“National Grid leadership recognized early on that the virus was going to be a pretty major issue,” Chris Soufleris, National Grid’s Control Center Director, told WBEN. “This is a very highly specialized team of individuals that work for me. If we lost a certain amount of the team, we would not be able to function.”

There are approximately 200 National Grid workers that are being sequestered. Their requirement to stay allows National Grid to cover electricity and gas needs throughout their entire service territory, which includes the 20 million people who live in Buffalo, Upstate New York, Downstate New York, and New England.

If one person in their crew caught coronavirus, it could have impacted the entire operation for National Grid. Not only would a loss of power mean that your home lacks amenities, it would prove disastrous for hospitals that would then have to rely on backup generators for an extended period of time.

“If you picture air traffic control, this job is very similar in the sense that rather than distributing how planes move around, we’re moving electricity around in a similar way,” Soufleris said. “As the electricity is transmitted into the general region, we distribute it out to the customers. We control the flow of electricity. If there is any issue with the flow – if power lines come down or a dangerous situation arises – we isolate those situations and make it safe for the general public and our employees to work.”

Unfortunately for some, it means time away from their family. However, a media room was set up so that those working 12-hour shifts can still connect with their family via video.

“For now while our people are being sequestered, it’s a complete sequester inside a zone in our building,” he said. “It’s been fenced off. Nobody in and nobody out. Me and the team in here. We don’t have any contact with the outside world which is going to keep us from picking up the virus.”

These teams for National Grid are working in one-month intervals. While they’re working, they sleep in RVs set up outside of their campus. Soufleris said a catering company is sequestered inside, too, to provide food for several weeks.

There is also a way for materials to inside and outside of their facility, though Soufleris said they are heavily sanitized and the person who sanitizes what is coming in does so using personal protective equipment.

“We’re in it to win it,” Soufleris said. “We’re going to do what it takes to keep the power going.”

He also said morale has been high, even as his crew has been working long hours for more than a week.

“I think we can do it as long as it takes,” he said. “I’m expecting two, three, four months range but if it takes longer, we’re going to take care of it.”

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