In Case of Emergency, Call Your Generator Manufacturer!

Two Ontario municipalities show how a proactive approach to emergency planning leads to a more dynamic role for generator system providers.

Tavistock, ON –When the blackout of August 2003, left 55 million people without power in central Canada and the northeastern states, communities throughout region came face-to-face with the full extent of their reliance on emergency electrical power.

The Treasurer for the Port of Goderich sees the Sommers Generator every day.

Power outages are a nuisance for homeowners and costly for business but, for municipal planners, there is much more at stake. In any disaster of significance, communities turn to their elected officials to ensure their safety, to deliver essential services, provide relief to the displaced and to care for the injured and vulnerable. It all takes power and, in almost every instance, the power grid is the first casualty of any large scale disaster.

Chris McGregor, General Manager of Sommers Motor Generator Sales, based in Tavistock, Ontario, saw first-hand how the 2003 blackout became a wake-up call for municipal planners. “The blackout showed emergency officials how a widespread power outage has a domino effect on every other service they might need. Their plans for backup systems are much more comprehensive now.”

According to McGregor, the higher profile for standby power presents more than a sales opportunity for generator system manufacturers and distributors. It creates an opportunity to develop new customer relationships across the spectrum of municipal administrators, emergency service providers and the consulting firms that advise them.

“Every town and city has different needs and different resources available to it,” McGregor says. “If you come in with a flexible approach to the supply and servicing of their generator systems, you can have an active influence on improving the town’s preparedness, as well as improving your chances of winning the business.“

Standby power for emergency services is too important, McGregor feels, to settle for off-the-shelf solutions. Planning the purchase of the town’s generator systems has to be an integral part of its overall emergency planning. He cites two programs in his own area as examples of the differences in approach.

Planning for the long-term
In Goderich, Ontario, Lynda Rotteau leads the town’s disaster planning as its designated CEMC (Community Emergency Management Coordinator). Since 2001, the Ontario government has mandated every municipality to name a CEMC, though it leaves the actual planning and implementation of the emergency plan to the local committees.

“We are quite remote from any major cities,” says Rotteau. “Our target is to be fully self-sufficient for a 72-hour period in any emergency – enough time to bring in outside support if we need it.” The Emergency Operations Control Group in Goderich includes elected officials, fire and police services, hospitals and local utilities for water, gas and electricity. The group attempts to anticipate a host of threats to the security of the town: Local weather spans the gamut from ice storms and winter gales off Lake Huron to heat waves, summer tornados, hurricanes and flooding. Planners must also be prepared for large scale industrial accidents and public health emergencies such as the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the recent H1N1 pandemic.

“Our town has had emergency planning in place since 1995,” Rotteau reports. “Most our municipal facilities have had a small portable generator onsite since then. But those were really just for evacuation power; to power the emergency lighting.” After the blackout, Goderich developed a long-term master plan to upgrade its standby power equipment. Sommers has worked with the various services there to install 3 generator systems, ranging from 100 to 200 kW.

The Maitland Valley Medical Centre has a Sommers standby generator to make sure that they are always available to serve the needs of the community.

The town hall, fire department, hospital, water plant, pollution plant, parks, public works and Goderich Hydro are all now equipped to be fully operational under their own power. As part of its pandemic planning, the Maitland Valley Medical Centre adjacent to the hospital also has a new generator system. The Goderich high school has a switch installed to be able to utilize a portable generator if necessary and is designated as the evacuation shelter for a nearby nursing home. According to Rotteau, the only facility still waiting for its upgrade is the municipally operated daycare, which is slated to receive its generator system within the year.

Sharing resources
Goderich is active in wider efforts to coordinate resources with neighboring communities. Rotteau participates in county-level and regional emergency planning committees. The town has signed agreements for mutual assistance that help to share the load for emergency infrastructure with other municipalities.

Purchasing of the town’s generators has been planned to take advantage of annual funding grants available under Canada’s federal JEPP (Joint Emergency Preparedness Program). JEPP grants underwrite up to 45% of the cost, up to a maximum of $10,000 per generator designated for emergency planning.

To specify and install new gensets, Rotteau relies on the expertise of Sommers’ sales and service technicians. “We tendered the first few purchases,” Rotteau explains, “but now town council has approved us to call Sommers directly when we need something. They’re nearby and we know we can count on them.”

Mobilizing standby power
Further north, in Sault Ste. Marie, the challenge to Sommers was quite different. After a successful tender process, Sommers delivered its largest mobile generator system to date. The trailer-mounted system produces 1 MW and was custom designed to maintain all operations of the city’s new Essar Centre, a multi-function 45,000 sq. ft. arena and entertainment facility. As well as hosting major sporting events such as professional hockey and Canada’s national women’s curling championship, the Essar Centre is earmarked as the primary shelter in “The Soo” for persons displaced or injured by an emergency.

Nick Apostle is the Commissioner of Community Services for the city of 75,000. According to Apostle, the Centre’s place in The Soo’s emergency plan was determined during its planning stages. Opened in 2006, the city’s budget did not allow for the immediate purchase of the required standby power system, but its electrical design anticipated the eventual arrival of the 1 MW system.

When the city was ready to buy its new generator system, however, it looked beyond the Essar Centre to other needs as well. According to Apostle, the Emergency Measures Committee recognized the opportunity to back up facilities in other parts of the city, and to enhance the Centre’s attractiveness as an events venue. “The Essar Centre offers everything we need in an emergency shelter: heating, light, food preparation. The generator can fully power all of its equipment, including the scoreboard and ice-making chiller for the arena.”

To develop specifications for the mobile system, the committee turned to EPOH Inc., the engineering firm that originally designed the electrical system for the Essar Centre. “Our original design included all the switch gear and connections that the future generator would need,” says Ryan Crowle, who headed the project at EPOH. “And now, the electrical systems at other municipal facilities have to be compatible with the same setup.” As a result, the city can deploy backup power for virtually any need at various locations around the city.

Flexibility in tendering
When the generator system was tendered, bidders were invited to include alternatives to the bid spec, allowing bidders to suggest ways to enhance value and performance of the system. Trailerizing the system proved to have a financial benefit as well. “Compared to a permanent installation,” says Apostle, “we found we can operate the generator in limited space, for half the total cost.”

1 megawatt trailer onsite.

The system delivered by Sommers includes extensive sound attenuation features that meet the city’s goal of quiet operation in a downtown setting. The enclosure is a custom designed 40 ft. ISO container mounted on a DOT-approved trailer chassis, and includes a 3000 litre double-walled Transport Canada-approved fuel tank. The generator is driven by a 16 V-2000 Detroit Diesel G85 engine, producing a prime power rating of 1125 kVa, or the equivalent to 1250 kVa in standby service. Utility features include a 60 Amp Shore power receptacle for lighting, a space heater, engine heater and battery charger.

The emergency plan also covers the long-term care and maintenance of the Sommers system. When not in use, the trailer goes to a specially equipped facility at the city’s transit garage. This storage area was developed as a separate project, and includes a dedicated 60A service; to keep lights, heat, and a block heater powered to keep the system’s diesel engine warm and ready to run at all times.

Communicating with communities
With these emergency systems in place, Sommers’ customers continue to rely on their generator system vendors for expert advice. Provincial regulations covering mobile fuel storage were updated while The Soo’s system was in development, but Sommers was able to help the city ensure that its trailer complied with new DOT licensing. After looking over a request from Goderich for the remodeled town hall, Chris McGregor pointed out that powering the elevator for the 3-floor building was a major draw. “We realized we could just choose to use the stairs,” reports Lynda Rotteau, “and save 1/2 the cost of the cost of the system!”

The focus for emergency planners is on good communication between all the affected services and levels of government. In that dialog, generator manufacturers can take on an important role as expert suppliers to help communities achieve cost-effective preparedness. By making yourself as well as your business known as a problem solver, you create opportunities to build relationships.

About Sommers
Sommers is located in Tavistock, Ontario, and has been a trusted name in generating, delivering and applying electrical power for 75 years. Generator systems are their only business and, today, Sommers is the leading Canadian manufacturer of packaged generator systems for residential, commercial and industrial applications and has the largest privately held inventory of generators for sale or rent from 3 kW to 2 MW.

Sommers offers a complete range of customized standby, PTO and off-grid generator power solutions. As a generator specialist backed by proven technical experience and the country’s most extensive aftermarket service and parts facilities, Sommers is the “Power House” to depend on in Canada.

For professional service, contact the authorized Sommers Generator Systems specialist in your area at 1-800-690-2396 or visit us online at