Students, alumni get creative during power outage

A malfunction of the primary campus circuit breaker is responsible for the recent sporadic power outages that complicated several large campus events last weekend.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

Updated 03/04/10 at 05:24 p.m.

After about 24 hours of investigation, an outside contractor determined that a malfunctioning of the main circuit breaker system was responsible for the outage that plagued campus on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

One of the many relays (the device which provides a path for an electrical current to run) connected to the main circuit breaker (a device designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage) was preventing the breaker from closing. The main circuit breaker acts as a gatekeeper for all power that comes to Biola, according to Brian Phillips, senior director of Facilities Services.

“All power that comes to our campus goes through that circuit breaker,” he said.

The power first shut off Friday at 7:49 p.m. After sporadically phasing in and out, it finally returned permanently to most buildings at 8:20 p.m. on Saturday, when it was determined that the relay wasn’t necessary and the faulty piece was removed. Electricity returned immediately afterward. If the problem had persisted any longer, the emergency response team in place would have needed to create a more significantly extensive contingency plan, Phillips said.

A power outage of this scope hadn’t hit campus since 2005, when a problem with a transformer caused the campus to lose power for 10 hours. The “serious problem” wasn’t related to an electrical overload, Phillips said, so students were never in danger. Phillips said the problem “would have been a difficult thing to foresee.”

On another front, the power outage gave Biola a chance to test the emergency response team in a real-life situation rather than October’s mock drill.

“I think it was a pretty good demonstration of how we used the emergency response team,” said Justin Shelby, public information officer for Campus Safety.

In the meantime, Biolans had to make do. Battery-operated lanterns from the emergency supply were set up in residence hall restrooms, hallways and stairwells, and lanterns, batteries and flashlights were distributed to dorms. A generator was installed in the gym to allow for the Homecoming basketball game to continue as scheduled, but the generator ordered for the Caf failed to come in time for dinner. So, smaller generators were set up on the Caf deck, and portable lighting provided some light inside the dining area.

“I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it was an adventure,” said freshman Nicole Shute. “The Caf was kind of exciting in the dark.”

At meals, students had to make do with throwaway plates, cups and utensils. The lack of Internet frustrated students who need to go online to finish homework. The Production Center, which along with the Grove and the tennis courts receives power from another Edison feed, was able to operate while the rest of campus was in the dark. The Production Center was bustling with students trying to finish up homework and watching the Olympics. Many alumni and students, however, made the most of their energy-less day.

“The rain and the electricity being out didn’t really dampen anybody’s spirits,” said Rick Bee, senior director of alumni relations.

That rang true for Carol Santiago, a 1978 grad who traveled all the way from Phoenix.
“It’s still been a wonderful experience seeing how the campus has changed and getting to see everyone,” said Santiago, who was sharing a table with many friends who had been in each others’ weddings. “We’ve all had a great time.”

Some students went off campus, home or to friends’ homes. Not all students were bummed by the power outage, however.

“No lights, no rules,” said freshman Jeff Robert.

Sophomore Keith Williams was at SCORR chapel Friday night when the campus first lost electricity.

“It was really awesome,” he said.

Without means to heat up food, cold food became the choice entree around campus. Some students were locked out of their rooms because card readers were deactivated.
The incident gave junior Kali Harrison a new perspective.

“It was an eye opener of what it’s like to live without power like in third world countries,” she said.

Many students said the incident was handled well, all things considered.

Sophomore Joseph Garcia said he used the time he would have spent writing his research paper, a tricky task with no Internet, to play “Kumbaya all day” on his guitar.
The entire emergency response team, consisting of about 24 members in departments like Res Life, Campus Safety and Facilities Services, will meet in the coming weeks to analyze its performance in responding to the weekend’s incident. A contractor will come to campus soon to inspect the entire electrical system.

“Obviously, we learned some things from this situation,” Phillips said.

_Amber Baker, CJ McMunn, Bethany Miller, Alexandra Montiel, Rob Scott and Harmony Wheeler contributed to this report. _

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