Senior Soumitra Thorat was working his afternoon shift in the Burkhardt Language Center when he got an email telling him the power was about to be turned off.
“Campus Safety came in and said, ‘you have to leave so we can close, because the lights are going to go out at anytime,’” Thorat said. “As they were literally saying this the light went out. We honestly couldn’t see anything except for the exit signs.”
The planned outage occurred because earlier in the day – Oct. 22 at 10:30 a.m. – several major power lines shorted, otherwise known as a fault. All of the power in CFA and the Memorial Gym went out, as well as a portion of the power feeding into GDH, the Aux Gym, Old Main, and Alumni Hall.
“When we went to repair it we had to shut down all the power,” Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust said. “You don’t want hot feeds with 4,000 passing through when you’re trying to work on something. You’re in a manhole about 4 feet by 4 feet. You don’t live through 4,160 volts.”
Knox’s power comes in through underground power lines from the heating plant on the south side of campus. According to Maust, the 12,000 volts of electricity that come from the plant are split into lines that carry 4,160 volts, which are then directed to various buildings. The buildings that completely lost power blew all three of their power supplies, or phases, while the others only blew one.
“When you blow one phase it sometimes will affect some outlets, some lights, some motors,” Maust said.
This is what occurred in GDH, where certain outlets and projectors stopped working. In Memorial Gym, one of the buildings that blew all of its phases, more severe damage occurred.
“The pool was affected because we lost all power. Actually what happened was it took out the motor for the pump,” Maust said. “We had to replace the motor. That’s not unusual because there’s such a power surge.”
It is unclear what caused the faults. The repairs took journeyman electrician Steven Lumbeck and Director of Maintenance Patrick Pendergast 15 hours – from noon to 3 a.m. the next day – to complete. Maust mentioned how the occurrence of a fault can make it easier for more faults to happen in the future due to the damage of the wires.
“With electricity you can never say it’s never going to happen again,” Maust said, “but what we are going to do is we are going to look at and evaluate replacing the wires this coming summer.”