SYRACUSE — While many people isolate and quarantine themselves at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, about 50 National Grid employees are hunkered down at the Syracuse office to make sure electricity and natural gas keep working during the crisis.
The 50 in Syracuse are among roughly 200 National Grid employees living in their offices throughout the northeast making sure the lights stay on for everybody else.
“They are highly-skilled workers who are sequestered to monitor the uninterrupted flow of electricity,” explained National Grid spokeswoman Virginia Limmiatis.
“These are vital systems that are certainly on the forefront of providing necessary services.”
According to Limmiatis, the sequestration went into effect on March 23, with the 50 Syracuse employees living at the National Grid control center 24/7. Roughly half of the 200 employees are at various control centers throughout New York, with additional groups in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
These are not the in-field technicians that work in our local neighbors, but are instead the engineers who run the infrastructure that keeps electricity and natural gas flowing smoothly, Limmiatis stated.
“We felt that there was no safe reason to unwittingly expose this highly skilled group of people to the virus,” she explained.
The possibility of sequestering these workers has always been on the books at National Grid, sometimes used during natural disasters. Limmiatis said the decision was quickly made in mid-March to lock down the control center and keep everyone in place.
The workers live out of RVs parked at the facility, and they are provided food, laundry services, entertainment and more. It took about 10 days for National Grid to put all of this infrastructure in place for the lock down.
“When you work at the control center, you know exactly what you’re getting into,” Limmiatis explained.
The workers knew this was a possibility when they took the job. They are not allowed to leave the facility except for a small outdoor recreation area. They are also not allowed to visit with their families in-person, instead relying on telephone and internet communication.
“We are providing, as close as we can, the comforts of life,” she said.
The employee lock down will last for a month — until April 24 — when a second wave of employees will be brought in to switch places, she said. These employees will continue to switch on a month-to-month basis as long as needed.
“We’ll see how long this lasts,” she said.
“It’s about maintaining the integrity of the system. We’re all in this together, fighting this together.”