Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 8,
2002 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Protect Yourself With A Backup Generator
Driving northeast from sunny Trenton on the morning
of September 5, 2001, I encountered a puzzle as I approached
Traffic was backed up much more than it normally is, yet there was
no sign of an accident.
The first clue to the reason for the unusual traffic jams was a pile
of newly-sawed logs next to the curb near the Theological Seminary.
There were also branches on the grounds of the Princeton Borough
and around the corner, on Alexander Road, there were still more
Strange. There had been no storm in Trenton, not even a little wind
As I turned from Alexander Road onto Roszel Road, I was astounded
to find that the road was closed. Ditching my car in a nearby parking
lot, I walked the rest of the way to my office, passing PSE&G crews
on the way. In the drive of my building, at 12 Roszel Road, an
generator, knocked from its pole the previous evening, was blocking
the way. Inside the offices of U.S. 1, it was dark, and Richard K.
Rein, the paper’s publisher, was sending employees home. Without
there were no computers, and without computers there was no way to
get any work done.
"It doesn’t take a terrorist to knock out power," says
Griffith, founder of An-Mar Electrical Contractor in Hamilton,
a company that has just started installing Coleman gas generators.
"It could be a hurricane, a car accident, lightening." A
in the National Guard, Griffith had been at Fort Dix earlier in the
day on which we spoke, a cloudy day with drizzle, but a day without
dramatic weather. "The power went out," he says. "Why?
Who knows. It could have been anything."
The building where he was working at Fort Dix did have some back-up
power. Some lights stayed on, but there wasn’t enough power to keep
computers, fax machines, and copiers on. "For three hours we came
to a stand still," he says. "They were panicking. As it got
hotter, they were afraid the servers would go out." He says the
National Guard did have enough back-up power for essential tasks,
and that none of its public service roles were jeopardized. Still,
the sudden loss of power hurt productivity.
At our newspaper, which did not have back-up power on that day in
early-September, the loss of electricity was crippling. The daily
flow of faxes was cut off. There was no word processing, no page
no access to database information, no E-mail, no light in interior
offices, and not even telephones. The lines were still open but the
phones on the desks were controlled by a PC.
Stores, small businesses, and households all are addicted to
And for the most part, it is taken for granted. When his National
Guard colleagues started to fret about their servers, Griffith
that they turn on some fans. In much the same way, home owners,
of television news during a blackout, routinely try to flip on the
radio, whether or not it operates on electricity. So much of what
we depend on for communication, security, commerce, and entertainment
runs on electricity that we don’t think about it — until the
Griffith decided to include a service that would keep those lights
on when he read that Coleman had decided to stop distributing its
gas-powered generators through Home Depot stores. Home Depot, he says,
encouraged home owners to install the generators themselves rather
than hire contractors to do the work. He says Coleman decided this
was dangerous, and wanted its generators installed by professionals.
He contacted Coleman, and the company agreed to include his company
in its roster of installers.
Griffith graduated from Hamilton High School in 1966 and served in
Vietnam as a Navy gunner. After leaving the Navy, he worked as a
officer, and received a commendation for saving a fellow officer
a rebellion. "Inmates were beating him with ankle irons,"
he recalls. "I attacked the inmates." How many? "There
were five of them," he says. At some point during the melee, he
noticed that one of his arms was "dangling." Hit by one of
the irons, it was broken.
Enough was enough, and he left the corrections system in the mid-1980s
to learn the electrical trade from his uncle, Les Hutchinson, a
electrician. In the late-1980s, Griffith organized his own company,
An-Mar, which he recently incorporated. He has two sons, Robert, who
is now serving with the peace keeping mission in Sarajevo, and Brian,
a Navy Reservist who is working on his college degree. Griffith
both of his sons to join An-Mar soon.
Gas-powered generators are a new line for An-Mar, but Griffith expects
them to account for 30 percent of his business before long. He offers
a primer on what the generators can do, and how a business or
can decide on how much backup it needs.
a family with a home in Titusville high on a hill, loses power
because of lightening strikes. The family’s children, says Griffith,
become frightened when the lights go out. "When the lights go
out, people’s minds play tricks. The generator makes them feel
In the case of this family, it also keeps the water running. They
get water from a well, and a power failure means the well’s pump shuts
Water is an issue for another client, a doctor who lives in a flood
zone. During a recent heavy rainfall, the doctor’s finished basement
was ruined when the power went out and the sump pump failed.
For homeowners, the issues are safety and comfort. For small
whether they be at home or in an office park, the main issue often
is money. An outage — or even a brown out — cuts off the
that are the lifeblood of nearly every business.
promoting run on natural gas. He says they are preferable for many
customers — including families with children — because, unlike
diesel-powered generators, they go on automatically, and do not
anyone to flip switches or pull ropes to get them going. Natural gas,
Griffith adds, is a reliable source of fuel because power companies
maintain their own back-up generators to keep gas flowing when
power is out. This is so, he claims, because if gas flow is shut off,
pilots go out, and then when the gas goes on again, "you could
have a lot of houses blowing up."
can figure out how large a generator they need by adding up the amps
on the electric devices they want to stay on all the time, even in
a power outage. Amp ratings are affixed to most — if not all —
electronic devices and appliances. "The average computer uses
two amps," says Griffith. Copiers, because of the heat they
as they print, use 6 to 12 amps, and a fax machine uses about two
amps. A refrigerator uses about 6 amps, and a freezer draws 12 amps.
It is not necessary to power everything, though, says Griffith,
out that a freezer that remains closed will stay cold for a long time.
A 10,000-watt generator is rated for 80 amps, a 15,000-watt generator
is rated for 120 amps, and a 25,000-watt generator is rated for 220
amps. A ballpark price for the smallest unit is $6,500. The middle
unit is about $11,000, and the largest unit would cost about $18,000.
All prices include installation. Griffith says the 15,000 watt unit
would keep essential power in a 3,000 square foot house on. It would
keep the heat or air conditioning on, power the home office, and keep
a good number of the lights on. With a 25,000 watt generator a home
that size — or larger — could run pretty much as usual, with
even the whirlpool on.
For a business, the larger units would have no trouble powering 8
to 10 computers, a copier and a fax machine, a server, and a number
of fluorescent lights.
main power source. It turns itself on for a test run once every two
weeks, and presents a read-out indicating whether there are any
When power does go out, monitors alert the generator to take over
and to keep running until the main power source is back up.
There is a bump as this change-off occurs, and Griffith says it is
important to have computers and other electronics protected by an
uninterrupted power source for the transition. This plug-in device,
he says, retails for about $400, and is easy to install.
predicting that the state might suffer through the sort of energy
crisis that fouled up the works in California last year. But
of the success of deregulation, an easy prediction is that there will
be more lightening strikes, cars hitting utility poles, and freak
wind storms like the one that took U.S. 1 down for more than 24 hours
last fall. It is up to each home owner and small business owner to
decide whether preventing the ensuing disruption is worth the cost
of a generator.
08690. Robert P. Griffith, proprietor. 609-587-3988; fax,
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