From the Archives: Mount Sinai and the 1965 Blackout

When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, The Mount Sinai Medical Center was
a leader in the medical community’s response to the disaster. Careful disaster
preparation and the hard work of Mount Sinai faculty, students and staff meant
that the Medical Center was able not only to keep the lights on on its own
wards, but could expand service to receive evacuated patients from NYU Langone
Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital.

Information desk black out 1965Above: Metzger Pavilion Information Desk clerk Roy Brown works by candlelight at the during the 1965 blackout.

This is not the first time that Mount Sinai has had to deal with a disaster
that knocked out much of New York’s power grid. This week marks the anniversary
of the Blackout of 1965, the second largest blackout in American history. At
5:16 PM on November 9, 1965, an incorrectly set protective relay in Queenston,
Ontario failed to activate. Within fifteen minutes, the resulting electrical surge
had overloaded the power grid, causing blackouts not only in Ontario but throughout
the northeastern United States. New York City, including Mount Sinai, was
plunged into darkness.

In the operating rooms and delivery rooms, battery-powered emergency lights
quickly came on. The Engineering Department activated the hospital’s emergency
generators, allowing staff to keep elevators and crucial medical equipment
running. Most of the facility, however, remained without power, and over a
thousand flashlights, lanterns and candles were issued to staff members.

The Mount Sinai community worked throughout the night to keep the hospital
running despite the blackout. House staff and nurses continued to make regular
rounds. 1,200 patient meals were served on schedule, and 15 healthy babies,
including a pair of twins, were delivered. Hospital Director Martin Steinberg,
MD, would later write that “the Hospital’s performance remained close to normal”
thanks to the “spectacular” efforts of the staff.