Lessons From America – Check Your Generator Fuel Gauge

An American town recently learned the hard way why you must manage your generator fuel. In parts of Washington, emergency fire services were unobtainable for mobile phone users for around 12 hours after Sprint emergency generators ran out of fuel.

In Washington DC, Sprint is one of the largest mobile phone service providers, along with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Like many companies that need to stay online 24/7, no matter what, they use fuel powered generators that kick in if there is a power outage.

However, on August 16, Sprint experienced an extended outage, caused by “cascading problems”, in the form of a major transformer fire in Washington. The transformer fire occurred just opposite the Sprint site, causing a commercial power failure.

The emergency generators were fired up, and for a while provided vital cover, however, soon the generators shut down after running out of fuel. The fuel loss is thought to have occurred due to broken or stuck valve on an underground pipe that delivers diesel from an off-site reserve.

After the fuel ran out, a battery power backup system was used, but soon the batteries ran out. The result was that Sprint’s 911 cellular service went down for Sprint users in the District and also parts of Maryland and Virginia.

The situation was described as “a nightmare” by Roger Berliner, chairman of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, who asked Sprint to explain the cause of the outage. He went on to say, “there is simply nothing more frightening than to be in the moment when you desperately need help and then can’t get through.” Berliner, also vice president of Montgomery County Council, finished by simply stating that it was “unacceptable for 911 to go down”.

Constant Checks Required

Back up fuel generators must never be taken for granted, especially when they are provide support to emergency services.

With proper fuel management, it would have been evident early on that the generators were using more fuel than was being supplied. Although an off-site fuel reserve may sound like the safest option, it should still be stored on-site so that you can be sure that the fuel tank has sufficient fuel for operations.

With modern technology we are able to monitor fuel supplies remotely, and if a fuel tank starts to deplete its reserves faster than usual, we can quickly send out an engineer to diagnose the reason and then rectify the problem. In Sprint’s case, fuel should have been brought in by truck while the issue with the valve was fixed. This would have prevented power supply going offline for a prolonged period.

Regular Tests

In Sprint’s case, the power generators had been recently tested – Lisa Dimino, a Sprint spokeswoman, explained that systems had been tested six days before the event, and that Sprint “officials regularly inspect, test and maintain the backup power equipment at the site” and went on to reiterate that the mechanical failure “was out of the ordinary.”

Since the outage, the company that provides emergency power has taken measure to redesign the fuel-transfer systems and improved mechanical support and procedures so that spare parts are kept on site.

All Templant power generators come with optional fuel management services to ensure that your emergency power supply will not leave your customers out in the cold.

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