13 years ago
Cristen Perkowski

After two shorted power lines left 11 buildings on campus without power for almost three days, $1 million will be spent to replace the failing electrical system.

The first main electrical feeder line failed mid-day Aug. 12 , causing the first round of outages, according to Steve McGregor, UTD News and Information manager of public affairs. Power was restored for about an hour until the backup electrical line also failed.

The power outage was believed to have been caused by arcing, resulting in a short in the underground splicing unit, according to Jay Reimer, associate vice president for finance. Reimer said a hole about the size of pen cap was found in the power line that would have allowed water to seep in.

The main feeder line has been temporarily repaired, but the crews were unable to bring the backup feeder line back to service, said Jody Nelsen, associate vice president for business affairs. Diesel generators have been brought to campus as a backup so classes will not be affected.

Reimer said the exact cause of the power outage cannot be determined after the fact, but the current water drainage project in the mall area has been ruled out. Nelsen said the numerous additions of buildings on the southern end of campus may have caused the shutdown.

“In manhole 13 there has been a lot of activity due to construction on that end of campus, like adding the Activity Center, the School of Management and the Student Union addition,” Nelsen said.

<strong>Administration goals</strong>

With a goal of having the power lines replaced by the end of the month, the administration will shut down eight of the 11 buildings nightly – from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. – and on weekends to allow for repair.

The Activity Center, Student Union and Animal Care Facility will remain on generators during the nightly outages to maintain their normal operations.

The other buildings affected will include Berkner, Conference Center, Hoblitzelle Hall, Engineering North and South, School of Management, McDermott Library, Founder’s Annex and the Bookstore.

Generators could be used during the day, but because of the noise and diesel fumes, the administration has decided to have repairs occur at night and on weekends and make preparations during the day.

The power lines were already scheduled for replacement in UTD’s master plan, Reimer said, adding the power outage “provided the opportunity to (replace them) now.”

“We’re upgrading – bringing in the future technology which reduces the probability of electricity outages in the future,” Reimer said.

Reimer added that President Franklyn Jenifer has issued a charge to study the campus’ electrical infrastructure for future improvements.

But the necessary repairs will cost UTD.

“The money that we are going to be able to squeeze from reserves and the budget is going to be over $1 million dollars,” Reimer said.

But if one good thing comes out of the dark, it would be the dedication of UTD and outside personnel to get the campus back up and running.

Reimer added UTD is lucky because generators and cables were acquired just hours before the national government put a hold on the items due to hurricane Charley.

Through the construction, Reimer cautions students to be careful around the work zone. He advises students to watch for power lines on walkways and to stay out of fenced-off areas.

<strong>Campus coping with blackout</strong>

The university ground to a halt Aug. 12 and 13 as buildings quickly became warm without air conditioning, and staff were left without the use of their computers.

Yet with some readjustment and relocation, university offices maintained their operations.

“We weren’t open right at 9 a.m., but we were up and ready for business by 9:20 a.m.,” said Theresa Johnston, director of financial services.

Johnston said the Bursar’s Office, along with Financial Aid and the Registrar, took the necessary forms and a way to secure the money and trekked over to the Multipurpose Building where they continued their daily operations and registration.

“It wasn’t really that big of a deal. We knew from Thursday, so we were able to make contingency plans,” Johnston said. “Sure it was a little inconvenient for the students, but I don’t know how we could have fixed that.”

As a result of the outage, the deadline for late registration was extended two days to accommodate student needs.

UTD food services served free meals to workers Friday, as their food in stock slowly thawed in the non-operational freezers.

Dennis Lee, director of food services, said the university rented a Cisco refrigerated truck in order to store $20,000 in food instead of continuing to use dry ice – which only lasted approximately 36 hours.

The power outage ultimately resulted in $2,000 of food wastages before power became fully operational again Aug. 16.

Pizzas were ordered for the international orientation due to the food services limited capacity to arrange meals.

Doug Jackson, director of Information Resources, said they lost the Help Desk, the computer labs and, in general, a means of contacting the rest of the campus. Luckily, most network and Internet services were not located in the affected end of campus.

“It would have been a lot worse had it happened on the other end of campus,” Jackson said. “We all learned some lessons, and I have to look at how we’re going to respond if it happens again.”

The School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) managed through the emergency readiness system built into the complex.

“A lot of the network infrastructure and servers were on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) battery backup, which carried them until the generator kicked online.”

ECS was diminished to core services, but didn’t have any major problems with experiments in the building.

“Research was stopped and any computational processes were stopped in progress on very expensive servers meant to be up 24-7,” Hamblin said. “But we were able to shut down gracefully so we didn’t lose any data.”

<em>Aidan Skoyles contributed to this report</em>