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Super Bowl outage traced to device used to prevent power outage

February 08, 2013|By Houston Mitchell
  • Power went out in half of the Superdome during Sunday's Super Bowl.
Power went out in half of the Superdome during Sunday's Super Bowl. (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)

The Superdome folks might want to get their money back on this one. An electrical device whose sole purpose was to prevent a power outage caused the Super Bowl blackout, the stadium's power company said Friday.

Officials of Entergy New Orleans said the relay device had been installed in switching gear to protect the Superdome from a cable failure between the company's incoming power line and lines that run into the stadium.

Company officials said the device performed with no problems during January's Sugar Bowl and other earlier events, but has been removed and will be replaced. All systems at the Superdome are now working and the dome will host a major Mardi Gras event Saturday night, said Doug Thornton, an executive with SMG, the company that manages the stadium for the state.

After Entergy New Orleans blamed the device, the manufacturers of the relay, S&C Electric Co. of Chicago, said a low “trip setting” on the equipment caused the partial blackout and that the outage would have been avoided if the operator of the relay device had set the trip threshold higher.

The power failure at the Super Bowl cut lights to about half of the stadium for 34 minutes.

Shabab Mehraeen, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Louisiana State University, said the relay device is a common electrical fixture in businesses and massive facilities such as the Superdome.

“They are designed to keep a problem they sense from becoming something bigger, like a fire or catastrophic event,” Mehraeen told the Associated Press.

The devices vary in size, and while Mehraeen noted he was not familiar with the specifics of the relay at the Superdome, he added, “I wouldn't be surprised if it was bigger than a truck.”

Mehraeen said the reasons the devices fail are the subject of much academic research into the interaction of relays with the complex electrical systems they regulate.

“It's not unusual for them to have problems,” he said. “They can be unpredictable despite national testing standards recommended by manufacturers.”

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