Independent investigation into Super Bowl power outage underway

By Jack Keough

It’s been a few weeks since the infamous 34-minute power loss during the Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and still there has not been an official reason as to why the outage occurred. As a result, officials with Entergy, the utility, and SMG, the company that manages the Superdome, have hired an independent, third-party engineer to investigate the cause, according to the /the Times Picayune.

The blame has been centered on a relay device in electrical switchgear, which controls the flow of electricity from the power company to the stadium. Entergy, the electric company for New Orleans, said an electric relay had “triggered, signaling a switch to open when it should not have, and causing the partial outage.”

Doug Thornton, senior vice president for SMG, believes the investigation would bring closure to the situation, revealing “whether that relay device was installed improperly, set improperly or malfunctioned,” the newspaper website reported. “We kind of see this as something that they should take responsibility for,” Thornton said about Entergy carrying forward with the outside review, “because after all, it’s their equipment, it’s their switchgear, they own it, they operate it, they maintain it.”

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.

Entergy and SMG, issued a joint statement explaining the power loss:

“A piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system. Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed.”

The switchgear was installed as part of a $4.2 million upgrade to the Dome’s electrical system, intended “to protect the Mercedes-Benz Superdome equipment in the event of a cable failure between the switchgear and the stadium,” the utility said.

The 2014 host committee for the Super Bowl is already working to make sure it doesn’t happen again next February at MetLife Stadium.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about that, and we’re going to make sure we take extra precautions to see that it doesn’t happen,” Giants co-owner John Mara said, according to news reports.  “We’ve involved PSE&G (Public Service Electric and Gas Company) in those discussions, and we’re going to have a lot of procedures built in to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

When MetLife Stadium, the Giants and Jets’ shared home, opened in 2010, there was an 11-minute power outage during a November Giants-Cowboys game. A transformer blew at the substation that powers the stadium, causing several banks of lights to go out. There haven’t been any power glitches since.

“It was an isolated incident; we don’t think it could happen again,” Mara said, according to the web site  “Those types of issues are above and beyond my expertise, but we’ve brought in the right people, and I think we’ll be fine.”

Mara did not specify the “procedures” that will be implemented. He said he was confident their work with the area’s utility company will guard against any power failures for next year’s Super Bowl.

Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at or

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