Feature Stories

Staying in Touch With Power: Meet Donald Blackman '76

Alumnus Donald K. Blackman '76

When the power fails in a hospital and lights go out, the situation can quickly become life-threatening.

Power must be restored in seconds, not only for lighting but to operate all the equipment that assures the well- being of patients.

For nearly 40 years, Donald Blackman has been supplying technology that can restore power for hospitals and other facilities without a dangerous delay. Blackman is vice president for marketing and domestic sales at ASCO Power Technologies, a business unit of Emerson Network Power. The systems he helps to provide detect power loss and switch almost instantaneously to a back-up generator or alternate utility circuit.

Blackman joined ASCO – originally known as Automatic Switch Company – as an application and sales engineer less than a year after completing his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at NJIT. Given Blackman’s hands-on interest in technology and customer service, it was a great match.

Before college, Blackman discovered the satisfaction of wiring his house with additional phone jacks and remote stereo speakers. A model train enthusiast, he installed “miles of wire” under a layout, which foreshadowed his future career in that it involved the complexities of distributing power to run several trains simultaneously. Power was also the focus of his senior NJIT project, a neatly designed and packaged switching and control unit reflecting his model-railroading ingenuity.

Blackman learned that he enjoyed personal contact in a sales setting prior to college as well. “In high school, I had part-time jobs in a butcher shop, a shoe store and an electronics store. I really liked the interaction with customers, and you learn very quickly what serving people with the right attitude means for success in business.” This inclination, coupled with an unflagging desire to work in a hands-on technical environment, led to increasingly responsible positions with ASCO at several different locations across the country. Blackman, who has an MBA in addition to his NJIT degree, also returns to his alma mater to share professional insights gained over the years as a member of advisory boards for the Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering and the Interdisciplinary Design Studio.

Now based in New Jersey, Blackman oversees product and project management, sales, marketing, customer care, applications engineering and new-business development. All of these efforts are centered on the power-transfer switches and power-control systems that are his company’s core product lines. Over the past four decades, he has seen these products become increasingly capable through the convergence of electromechanical, communications, and computing technology.

ASCO’s Critical Power Management System displays comprehensive data on a 55-inch, high-resolution monitor, providing information about transfer switches, circuit breakers, generators and power quality – all with one-millisecond time stamps. The system will switch among any of several utility sources or generator feeds, automatically matching the capacity of multiple generators with load demand. The wealth of data pictured is also important for forensics, Blackman says. “Why did the hospital or computer center go offline? You can get an immediate report on the sequence of events from the time the wind started to blow in a storm to when power failed and was switched to a working source.”

Demand for the capabilities ASCO offers is increasing with awareness of the need to keep power flowing in the aftermath of natural disasters and possible terrorist activity, including cyber-attacks. Blackman explains that the National Electrical Code now has a section known as COPS in the industry, an acronym for Critical Operations Power Systems.

Any facility in the US that has a significant economic role, such as the New York Stock Exchange, must be able to run the same way under emergency conditions as it does normally. There is also a comparable requirement covering cell-communications towers, and major service providers are working to retrofit some two- hundred thousand towers with transfer switches and generators.

But regardless of the application, Blackman says that it all comes down to one challenge. “We want our power to be on when and where it’s needed.”