Power outage strikes campus (twice)

Emily Gonzalez

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Mon., April 23, members of the Lawrence community experienced confusion and frustration after the second power outage in two days apppeared to shut down campus.
The outage, which lasted around four hours, occurred during the lunch hour, Admitted Student Day, and for many Lawrence students, midterms.
Physical Plant hurried to solve the issue, while both Downer and the Mudd Library posted signs indicating that power would not be restored until at least 2 p.m.
A brief power outage occurred in the early morning hours last Sat., April 21, lasting approximately an hour and a half.
According to Physical Plant Energy and Facilities Engineer Dan Meyer, the first power outage was caused by a “rather determined squirrel” which had worked itself past protective devices at one of the subsystems owned by We Energies, Lawrence’s energy provider.
Unlike Monday’s outage, which mainly affected the Lawrence campus, this first outage affected a substantial portion of the Appleton area.
The causes for Monday’s power outage, however, have not been as easily pinpointed. Lawrence’s electrical subsystem “could have been weakened by lightning strikes over the years,” said Meyer.
Though this subsystem is only around 10 years old, any past weakening of the system ultimately led to “failed lightning arrestors at the substation,” according to Meyer.
Although the power outage caused problems around campus, Meyer stated that the subsystem’s arrestors luckily prevented the substation equipment from acquiring any further damage.
Since the outage took place during the beginning of a busy lunch hour, Dining Services staff hurried to work around the problem before the student rush. Only B Line – normally the deli line – was kept open during the lunch hour, and disposable dishes were placed out instead.
Around other areas of campus, some classes were cancelled, while some students were forced to take midterms in the relative darkness of their classrooms.
Most of the library floors were lit by overhead emergency lights. Immediately after the outage, library staff checked elevators and corners of the library, then provided flashlights for certain offices and the dark restrooms.
The reference librarians also continued their assistance, answering research questions “the old-fashioned way,” as library director Peter Gilbert put it, “with reference books and print indexes.”
In campuswide emergencies like the power outage, Meyer explained that in order to react properly, several things need to happen at once.
“Most of the computer and communication systems are backed up by uninterruptible power supplies and the large generator in Hiett Hall,” explained Meyer.
The Hiett generator, as well as several smaller generators around campus, also supply power for emergency lighting to other buildings. Some buildings also use battery-operated emergency lighting in case of outages.
Although the power outage created difficulties for students and staff, the weather was nice enough that drastic measures didn’t have to be taken.
Some students questioned how the campus would react to a power outage during the cold winter months. In this case, Meyer explained that Lawrence would most likely have to rent a backup generator “to supply necessary power to the campus if it was not a short term failure.”
Meyer also added that the new campus center will be equipped with emergency power generation “that could eventually upgrade some of the backup capabilities on the east side of the campus.”
Power was finally restored on campus around 3 p.m.