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Natural gas alarm system enhances public safety, quickens emergency response

New York City

New York, NY

After a series of deadly natural gas explosions, New York City needed a standardized natural gas alarm system to increase public safety. Nearly 100,000 natural gas detectors were incorporated into a monitoring network that extended into neighboring Westchester County, resulting in the discovery of many gas leaks.

Topics Covered

Law Enforcement and Emergency Response
Air Quality, Health, Noise

Funding

General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Project Status

Operational since 2020

Problem Addressed

New York City needed to take action to prevent future natural gas leaks and disasters after several deadly explosions occurred. 

New York City has 6,300 miles of pipes transporting natural gas and no standardized systems in place for detecting natural gas so leaks could be mitigated before they became explosions. Too often it came down to someone calling 911 suspicious of a gas leak because of the odor.

As the most densely populated major city in the U.S., accidents that occur in New York City often impact entire neighborhoods. In 2014, a gas explosion in East Harlem destroyed two five-story buildings and resulted in 8 deaths, at least 70 injured, and left at least 100 families displaced. In 2015, another gas explosion occurred in the East Village, destroying 4 buildings, and resulting in 2 deaths, and at least 19 injured.

In the wake of these horrible events, it was clear that the city needed to reduce the risk of similar natural gas-related events from occurring again. Unlike carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, the installation of natural gas detection devices in buildings is not required by law.

Because natural gas in NYC and Westchester County is supplied by Con Edison, the city turned to the utility to better enable the monitoring of gas leaks through early warning devices and detection technology.

Solutions Used

Since 2018, over 100,000 natural gas alarms have been installed in buildings to detect leaks before they turn deadly.

Following a 2018 pilot program, mass deployment began in 2020 resulting in 100,000 Denova Detect alarms being installed throughout New York City, specifically Manhattan, and Westchester County. The natural gas alarm system alerts New York residents of natural gas leaks and accelerates the dispatch of emergency responders.

The alarms were installed as part of Con Edison’s regular 5-year building inspection for leaks. At each inspection, Con Edison staff installed a natural gas alarm where the gas pipe entered the building, most often in the basement, and where leaks were most likely to occur due to aging pipe infrastructure.

The Denova Detect alarms were then integrated into Con Edison’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network. The natural gas alarm's signal is sent through the smart electric meter to the utility’s response center that alerts and dispatches an emergency response.

When the alarm senses natural gas, it sounds a distress signal and a voice warning that advises occupants to evacuate and call 911 from outside the building. The building’s alarm communicates readings of natural gas levels every 30 seconds when in alarm. The utility uses this data to update emergency responders in real-time about the location and severity of the leak. Because the alarm signals are sent out to the utility and first responders, they are resilient to being set off by typical household chemicals, limiting the potential for false alarms.

With approximately 100,000 alarms already in place, Con Edison has been able to learn the source of natural gas leaks and minimize their occurrence. These battery-powered AMI natural gas alarms have already helped Con Edison identify and address numerous leaks, thereby eliminating the potential of a major risk hazard.

Although the city isn’t able to calculate the total lives saved as a result of these new alarm installations, Con Edison has noted that numerous alerts were triggered by “Type 1 Gas Leaks” which were potential major risks requiring immediate attention and could have led to deaths and serious injuries.

“Well-maintained natural gas equipment and the early detection of leaks are critical to everyone’s safety,” said Richard Wishnie, Westchester County’s commissioner of Emergency Services.

Outcomes

1

The city-wide natural gas detection system is a reliable way of reducing the incidence of natural gas accidents and explosions

2

At present, nearly 100,000 detectors have been installed and many gas leaks have been discovered, saving lives and reducing property damage

3

The city’s fire department can be dispatched more quickly and with more information as to the severity of the gas leak

4

New York City can refine its process for what events to dispatch the fire department on, eliminating dispatches on minor, unnecessary leaks

5

Con Edison can use the data on gas leaks to act and implement inspections and processes to minimize preventable leaks

Who Should Consider

Towns/cities/counties utilizing aging natural gas infrastructure and who want to prioritize resident safety through early warning and detection technology.

Last Updated

Apr 28th, 2022
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