BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Unusual times means unusual measures.
That is the reasoning behind National Grid's decision to sequester essential employees at its control centers across the service area. Teams of employees will be living at work for a month at a time - with no end to the rotations until the pandemic is over.
The effort is meant to reduce the chance of infection to critical control center workers while insuring there are no interruptions in power delivery.
National Grid is one of the first power companies in the U.S. to implement the live-at-work procedures.
Control centers are responsible for distributing electricity to various areas. When there is a problem, the control centers are the ones who can isolate it and direct field crews to the problem.
"They are a special group of people with highly specialized skills. It is not like anyone can just come in and do their job. We need them," said Chris Soufleris, director of National Grid's regional control center in Buffalo.
Soufleris is living with his team at work for roughly 31 days. At first, he wondered how it would be to have workers living with their boss, but he said everyone is bonding much quicker than he expected.
"Spirits are high and I give a lot of credit to my team," said Soufleris.
National Grid's service area extends across New York State to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. About 200 control center employees are being sequestered in that area of operations.
"This was a pretty unprecedented event. It came on big and fast," commented Soufleris.
The power company had to make some big adjustments for having people living at work, and that included planning for all aspects of life. It also meant getting medical personnel to make sure everyone being sequestered is healthy.
"We have to find ways to entertain people in their off-hours because they need to vent-off steam from working all day," explained the control center director.
For families now separated, it is a sacrifice as loved-ones can only communicate through digital means like FaceTime.
"Particularly with my parents, they are getting older and they've learned to use FaceTime for the first time. There has been a lot of FaceTime between family members. That is keeping spirits up," added Soufleris.
National Grid has formed a support group for families whose spouses cannot come home.
With people living, working and schooling exclusively from home during the crisis, the need for reliable power is greater than ever. It is also crucial for hospitals and other essential businesses.
"The Tesla plant has retooled itself to make ventilators. We need to keep the power going to them. We certainly don't want to stop that from happening," explained Soufleris.
While the situation could last for months, Soufleris said he and his team are ready to do their part to help everyone get through the covid-19 emergency without any power problems.
"However long it takes, we are in it to win it."