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Blackout | Article

Charlie Durkin, Con Edison Operator

Charlie Durkin, former chief system operator at Consolidated Edison electric company, discusses a connection between the 1965 and 1977 blackouts in an interview with American Experience for the 2015 documentary "Blackout."

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Charlie Durkin

The blackout of July 13th, 1977 plunged the city of New York into darkness for more than 24 hours, resulting in the looting of more than 1,600 businesses, more than 3,000 arrests, and over 1,000 fires throughout the city. Twelve years earlier, on the night of November 9th, 1965, New York City experienced a similar power outage when it was a part of the 80,000 square miles left without power in the Northeast area of the United States and parts of Canada. Despite leaving 30 million people in the dark for approximately 14 hours, the 1965 blackout was relatively peaceful. Instead of rioting and looting, New Yorkers volunteered to direct traffic, shared candles, and assisted the fire department in an effort to rescue the 800,000 commuters that had been trapped in New York's subways.

Charlie Durkin, former Con Edison Chief System Operator: [On the night of the 1977 blackout] it turned out that… a Transit Authority system operator had been on duty [during the blackout] in 1965. When the system separated [on July 13, 1977] …we began getting fluctuating conditions on the power system. And he observed, himself, that this did not look good, and looked sort of like 1965.

He saw… swings of power going through the 25-cycle system and things like that. So he decided to hold the trains in the stations, all right, which he did, so there were only two trains stranded, which is why there wasn't all of the news on people being evacuated out of subways and that kind of stuff. It turned out that that action also was such that [the] 59th Street generating station, which was a 25-cycle power supply station, stayed up… So, we got power from 59th Street into the control center. So we had good power, ventilation, air conditioning so working conditions were pretty good.

Well, you… quickly understand that electricity is a kind of a keystone for civility and if we can get the streetlights back on, the traffic lights working, and all that kind of thing, there was a much better likelihood that the police and so forth can maintain control. So we, you know, worked earnestly to try to accomplish that.

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