NYC power outage an 'inconvenience,' animal health officials say

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Oct 01, 2003

New York-The nation's worst power blackout could have been much worse, according to animal health officials.


Dr. Guy Pidgeon
Dr. Guy Pidgeon, president and CEO of The Animal Medical Center in New York City, reports that when the power went out Aug. 14, the hospital's emergency generators kicked on to supply electricity to the critical areas of the hospital like intensive care, surgery and a portion of the main hospital. "We had a few hiccups, here and there," he says.

He adds that the hospital and surrounding area suffered a complete loss of its telephone system, which was "one of the most frustrating components to this blackout." But even with a generator, air conditioning was not running at all, and officials became increasingly concerned about the impact of the heat on intensive care unit patients.

"We were very fortunate it didn't last any longer than it did because of the heat problem. The irony is that our ICU was fully-powered, but you still couldn't run an air conditioner, and it was starting to get damn hot by the end of the affair."

Pidgeon adds that the hospital was prepared for a power outage largely due to recent renovations that included a high-capacity generator. But some of the staff members stayed to care for hospitalized patients, and there were enough local doctors and staff to cover for the others who were stranded. "We had a great, great crew that just kicked in wherever needed and saw it through," since transportation was so sporadic.

Pidgeon, who adds he had the "good sense to be on vacation during the outage," says, "The frustrating thing about this city during the blackout is the telephone systems went right along with the electrical. Most of the cell telephone systems were non-functional because they are dependent on local power."

The situation was also frustrating for clients who were concerned about their pets' welfare, he adds. "They would often walk over to see what was happening with their hospitalized pet."

Fort Dodge meeting At 3 p.m. Aug. 14, Brent Standridge, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Fort Dodge Animal Health, took the stage in a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

A handful of Radio City Rockettes joined him for a comedic opening to the company's national sales meeting for 300-plus employees. Company President Thomas Corcoran followed, and then guest speaker Dr. Marty Becker began his presentation. At 4:10 p.m., the crystal chandeliers blinked and then plunged the room into darkness.

"Of course, being in New York City, people were apprehensive once they found out the power outage was so widespread," says Standridge, "but no one panicked."

Becker finished his presentation by auxiliary light.

The hotel had no air conditioning, no lights, a minimum of food (which was set out in a buffet-everything from lamb to cold cuts, according to Standridge) and electronic room keys didn't work. Hotel staff went floor by floor to manually open all the doors in the 18-floor hotel, with some guests not getting into their rooms until 4 a.m.

The group continued most of the meeting agenda with an "Army style"approach-each manager took care of his or her group.

Power was restored at 4:30 a.m. the following day.

"You can judge peoples' character when there's adversity, and my group came through with flying colors," says Standridge.

Pfizer opens up For Pfizer Animal Health the blackout was "remarkably undramatic," because it didn't impact key operational areas like manufacturing or research and development, reports Bob Fauteux, a Pfizer Animal Health spokesperson.

The corporate headquarters in New York City was closed the next business day, but its manufacturing facility in Lincoln Park, Neb. was not impacted by the blackout. At its veterinary research and development facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., the power outage was brief.

"Our primary concern during the power outage was the welfare of our employees. As it turned out, the primary challenge was just finding a way to get employees home." Fauteux adds that employees who had to commute outside of Manhattan could do so by using ferry boats since the subways were closed. For those stranded, Fauteux says, Pfizer headquarters opened up its facility for employees who couldn't get home to spend the night.

By Monday morning, Fauteux says, the New York offices were fully operational.