Power outage leaves Whittier students in dark, unconnected

Taylor Chin's picture

feature 1, Issue 23, Matthew Grant Anson, News, Poonam Narewatt, Taylor Chin - By Taylor Chin on Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 03:53

Poets were suddenly faced with studying for midterms without power or Internet on Sunday, March 20 around 1:20 p.m.

The majority of campus, excluding the Campus Center, Redwood Hall and College Hall, was affected by the outage which lasted approximately four hours and was caused by failed Southern California Edison (SCE) overhead equipment at the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Wardman Street.

“The buildings fed from Earlham Drive, which include the Campus Center and Redwood and College Halls maintained power,” Vice President for Finance and Administration James Dunkelman said. “The buildings fed from Philadelphia Street, which includes most of the campus, lost power.”

In addition to the loss of power and Internet, some basic infrastructure components of Whittier College like the phone system and MyWhittier were unavailable.

Information Technology Services’ (I.T.) servers typically use battery backup power until the generator is powered up; however, according to Director of I.T. Services Troy Greenup, this Sunday the generator was not engaged.

This led to the servers shutting down after the batteries were exhausted.

Students that tried contacting Campus Safety were greeted with a busy signal, leading to safety concerns.

“I think there’s no excuse for being unable to reach Campus Safety,” senior Russell Tanaka said. “If someone had gotten injured because of the power outage either directly or indirectly, then the school would have had issues with their lack of preparation for an event like the one this past weekend. Luckily, that didn’t happen.”

According to Director of Campus Safety Timm Browne, emergency power allowed them to dispatch personnel, but a generator was required to help restart their phone switching capabilities.

“As a result of their outage, we lost our phone switching capabilities which are located in a vault underground in Hoover,” Browne said. “It took a while for all the circuits to come up to speed.”

After this outage, Campus Safety is looking at alternate methods for students to contact them.
One option they are exploring is providing a cell phone number that will be located at the dispatch office.

In response to the outage, facilities management, Browne, Dean of Students Jeanne Ortiz, Vice President of Academic Affairs Charlotte Borst, Dunkelman, I.T. personnel and other staff came to campus and, according to Dunkelman, established plans for addressing the outage after daylight hours—including potentially evacuating students from the dorms. Some Poets responded to the outage by heading off campus, sleeping early and working in the library. Students were allowed to use the library but originally could not access the computers, printing facilities or check out books.

“I was doing a group project on Sunday when the power outage happened,” junior Maria Pizana said. “My friend had things saved on MyWhittier, but because it was down, we couldn’t access it so we were basically doing nothing.”

This is the second time this academic school year that Whittier College has suffered an outage due to SCE and the third time the school has had an outage in a campus area. “Based on our experiences last semester and during January, however, we had plans that were implemented to address the situation using our own generators,” Borst said. According to SCE, the outage affected over 20,800 with power restored to a large portion of customers 30 seconds after the equipment failure.

SCE Spokesperson Charlie Coleman reported that the outages were bounded by Hadley Street to the North, Greenleaf Avenue to the East, Pickering Avenue to the West and Lambert Road to the South, and the circuit that serves the Whittier College campus was not believed to be affected.

“They kind of hinted that it would last later into the night and that people would have to have flashlights for the lighting, but luckily it worked out and they restored power by 6 p.m.,” sophomore Turner RA Ernie Reus said.

Picture by Matthew Grant Anson